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makers of The middle Ages and Renaissance

Painter, Sculptor, and Architect
Celebrated Poet and Author
Poet, Author, and Proud Florentine
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Heroine of the Middle Ages
Renaissance Scientist and Astronomer
Renaissance Political Analyst and Author
The Medicis
A Ruling Dynasty
Painter, Sculptor, and Architect
Thomas More and His Struggles of Conscience
Queen Elizabeth and England’s Golden Age
Leonardo da Vinci
Artist, Inventor, and Renaissance Man

makers of The middle Ages and Renaissance

makers of The middle Ages and Renaissance

Painter, Sculptor, and Architect

Tim McNeese
COVER: Portrait of Michelangelo, by Marcello Venusti.


CREATIVE MANAGER Takeshi Takahashi

Staff for Michelangelo

LAYOUT 21st Century Publishing and Communications, Inc.

© 2006 by Chelsea House Publishers,

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First Printing


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McNeese, Tim.
Michelangelo: painter, sculptor, and architect /Tim McNeese.
p. cm.—(Makers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7910-8627-5 (hard cover)
1. Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475–1564—Juvenile literature.
2. Artists—Italy—Biography—Juvenile literature. I. Title. II. Series.
N6923.M45M38 2005

All links and web addresses were checked and verified to be correct at the time of publication.
Because of the dynamic nature of the web, some addresses and links may have changed since
publication and may no longer be valid.

1 A Genius at Work 1

2 The Artist’s Youth 9

3 Learning His Craft 21

4 The Heart of a Sculptor 39

5 The Stonecutter and

the Shepherd Boy 52

6 The Pope and the Artist 66

7 The Great Ceiling Painter 84

8 Endless Projects 104

9 118
Chronology & Timeline 130
Notes 134
Bibliography 137
Further Reading 138
Index 139
A Genius
at Work

illions of tourists travel to the European country

M of Italy each year to view some of history’s
greatest works of art. In the northern-Italian city of
Florence, one of the most important and grandest centers
of Renaissance art, visitors can tour the city’s Academy
Museum to view a great statue of a young nude man

2 Michelangelo

An interior view of the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of

Florence’s most famous Renaissance rulers. Michelangelo
was responsible for many of the sculptures included in the
design of the tomb.

carrying a slingshot. The marble statue, nearly 17 feet

tall, depicts the biblical hero David. The figure is
captured in stone at the moment he is preparing to
do battle with the great Philistine soldier-giant,
Goliath. Before their art tour of Florence is complete,
these same visitors might pay a call to the Medici
[MEH dee chee] Chapel of San Lorenzo, to admire
A Genius at Work 3

the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of Florence’s

most famous Renaissance rulers.
In the Italian capital of Rome, visitors can enjoy
other important Renaissance works of art. In the
Vatican, where the leader of the Roman Catholic
Church, the pope, lives, visitors can go to St. Peter’s
Church and stare in quiet reverence at the Pieta, a
statue of the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus, lying
dead across her lap, having just been taken down
from the cross. At the nearby Sistine Chapel, visitors
might crane their necks to take in several thousand
square feet of paintings that adorn the chapel’s
ceiling, several stories above. The murals include
hundreds of colorfully painted human figures from
the pages of the Bible, including Adam and Eve,
Noah, and the Hebrew prophets. Visitors might
also admire a large painting on the chapel’s altar
wall, depicting the Last Judgment. Elsewhere in the
complex of church art at St. Peter’s, visitors can
view a monumental marble sculpture of Moses, the
Hebrew leader of the Exodus.
These noted works of Renaissance art—the marble
statues of Moses, David, and the slain Christ, and
the paintings in the Sistine Chapel—all rank as some
4 Michelangelo

of the most important and greatest works of art

produced during the 1400s and 1500s. No trip to
Italy would be complete without viewing each work
on its own merit. Each is extraordinary as a single
work of art, but each work also represents part of
the talented genius of the Renaissance artist and
sculptor we know as Michelangelo.
In a world of great and talented men, this single
sculptor and painter towers above nearly all others,
with only a few exceptions among his fellow artists—
the older Leonardo da Vinci and the younger Raphael,
to name two. Michelangelo proved to be one of the
most significant figures of the Renaissance period.
One can only wonder how one man could produce
so many works of art during one of the most produc-
tive and creative periods for painting and sculpture.
He was, for one thing, an extremely versatile
man, able to express himself in many different
ways. He was not only an accomplished painter and
sculptor, but also an architect who designed some of
the most important buildings in Rome. He was a
poet who wrote more than 300 works of verse. In
addition, he wrote more than 500 letters that are
still in existence today.
A Genius at Work 5

This nineteenth-century portrait of Michelangelo

Buonarroti provides a glimpse of the esteemed
sculptor and painter of the Italian Renaissance.
6 Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s success during the Renaissance

was about more than talent and nurturing a variety
of different interests. He was also a man driven by
passion. He wanted to achieve, in his art, models of
beauty—artwork that would fill the viewer with awe
and an appreciation for his sense of dramatic style.
The Renaissance was a time during which men and
women sought new ways to express themselves. It
was a time when a man with the gift of creativity
could become a great and important person.
Michelangelo could not have been born at a better
time. For more than 60 years, this amazing artist
drove himself to create. With that driving passion, he
managed not only to create great works of art, but
also to define an entire age of artistic expression.
A Genius at Work 7

Test Your Knowledge

1 Michelangelo was the artist and sculptor
responsible for which work(s) of art?
a. The Sistine Chapel
b. The statue of David
c. The Pieta
d. All of the above

2 In addition to his work as a sculptor and artist,

in what other field did Michelangelo excel?
a. Poetry
b. Engineering
c. Astronomy
d. Cooking

3 What was Lorenzo de’ Medici of Florence

known for?
a. He was an artist.
b. He was a famous ruler of Florence during
the Renaissance.
c. He had St. Peter’s Church built.
d. He lived in Florence but was buried

4 In what museum is the statue of David housed?

a. The Academy Museum
b. The Uffizi Museum
c. The Medici Museum
d. The National Museum
8 Michelangelo

5 Why is this period of time called the Renaissance?

a. All art was drawn in a new way.
b. It was a time of “rebirth” for the arts and
c. The Catholic Church paid for all the artwork
being created.
d. It is named for an Italian style of art.
ANSWERS: 1. d; 2. a; 3. b; 4. a; 5. b
The Artist’s

ichelangelo, perhaps the greatest artist of the

M Italian Renaissance, was born on March 6, 1475.
The son of the local governor of the tiny village of Caprese,
nestled in the Apennine Mountains of Tuscany, he was
baptized as Michelagnolo di Lodovico Buonarroti
Simoni. In English, the spelling became “Michelangelo.”

10 Michelangelo

The Buonarroti Simoni family had been wealthy

once. Michelangelo’s great-grandfather had been a
rich and successful banker. His grandfather, also a
banker, had not fared as well, however. His father,
Lodovico Buonarroti, as the mayor of Caprese,
could hardly be called successful or wealthy.
Although his family descended from the rich and
famous among Italy’s important families, Lodovico
Buonarroti, his wife, Francesca, and young
Michelangelo lived very modestly. The mayorship
of Caprese paid very little, but hard work was some-
thing only the poor had to do. Lodovico Buonarroti
was a proud man who would rather accept a meager
income as a small-time government official than do
work with his hands. Little did he realize that one
day his new infant son would become famous for
using his hands to create great works of art.
Within a month of Michelangelo’s birth, Lodovico
Buonarroti packed up his family and their belongings
and moved to Florence. The Buonarrotis lived in an
old house near the Church of Santa Croce. In the
late fifteenth century, Florence was one of the most
important city-states in Italy. Others included the cities
of Venice, Rome, and Milan. Florence was already
The Artist’s Youth 11

famous for two things—its woolens trade and its

fabulous art. Although Michelangelo was only a baby,
he also had a brother who was less than a year and
a half older. While little is known of Michelangelo’s
upbringing, it is clear that his mother was often sick.
Between 1475 and 1481, Francesca Buonarroti gave
birth not only to Michelangelo, but also to three
more sons. Due to his wife’s poor condition and her
nearly constant pregnancies, Lodovico Buonarroti
turned Michelangelo over to the wife of a stonecutter
who helped raise the young boy. (One story claims
that Francesca Buonarroti had fallen from a horse
during the early months of her pregnancy with
Michelangelo and was unable to nurse her infant son.)
The Buonarrotis did not have much money,
but they did own a small farm in the village of
Settignano, in the hills overlooking Florence. It was
there that the stonecutter and his wife lived. During
Michelangelo’s early years, the village of Settignano
served as his home. The young Buonarroti also
frequently visited the local stone quarries, places
where workers cut stone for buildings, roads, and
making statues. Some of Michelangelo’s earliest
memories were about stone.
12 Michelangelo

Despite a lack of information about Michelangelo’s

early years, we do know that his mother died when
he was only six years old. How much time the

The Renaissance: A New Vision

for the World of Art
s a future artist, young Michelangelo could not
A have lived during a better time than the end of
the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth
centuries. His life overlapped one of the greatest
artistic periods in European history, the Renaissance.
The Renaissance was a dramatic period of growth
and change in the world of art, as well as other fields
of study and culture. It lasted for two centuries, from
approximately 1400 A.D. to 1600. This important era
in Europe came at the end of the Middle Ages, a time
period that began when the old Roman Empire
collapsed, around the year 400 A.D.
The word renaissance comes from an Italian word,
rinascimento, which means “revival” or “rebirth.”
For modern historians, the Renaissance represents a
rebirth in learning, in the study of true science and
astronomy, and a significant change in the subject
matter portrayed by painters and sculptors.
Italy was the center of the Renaissance. Its scholars
and great minds, as well as its artists, admired the
The Artist’s Youth 13

young boy had spent with her, or even how he felt

about losing her, remains unknown. It is known that
young Michelangelo, once he came home to live in

earlier cultures of the Greeks and the Romans. They

sought to return to many of the values held by these
earlier societies, including their philosophy, writings,
and art.
Just as Greek philosophers had placed
tremendous importance on the individual and on
natural beauty, so did Renaissance artists. Much
of the art of the Middle Ages had focused on
portraying stories from the Bible and Christian
subjects. While Renaissance artists still painted and
sculpted biblical subjects, they were more free to
express themselves through their art. Their subjects
were more emotional, more sensual, and more
realistic. Painting or sculpting a nude subject
had been avoided during the Middle Ages, but
Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo, thought
it was important to show the beauty of the human
body. The result was an artistic heritage that is still
admired today.
14 Michelangelo

his father’s house permanently, shared the house-

hold with many family members. There were his
four brothers and his father, of course. In addition,
an aunt and uncle also lived in the Buonarroti
house, along with Michelangelo’s grandmother, his
father’s mother.

How much Lodovico Buonarroti contributed to his
son’s upbringing is not clear. In his later years,
Michelangelo described his father as “an old-
fashioned man, who feared God.” 1 While he provided
the basics for a large family, he was “too proud to
work for a living, too poor to live well.” 2 Like many
Italian fathers of that time, Michelangelo’s father
probably left much of his son’s teaching to other
family members. Lodovico Buonarroti did, however,
give the following advice to his son, in a letter: “If
you fall sick, you are destroyed. Be sure to protect
your head and keep it reasonably warm; and never
wash! Have a massage if you like, but never wash!” 3
Michelangelo’s father did have plans for his son.
Despite his limited funds, he sent Michelangelo to
school in 1482, when the boy was only seven. By age
The Artist’s Youth 15

This bronze bust of Michelangelo shows what he

might have looked like as an adult. Little is known,
however, about Michelangelo’s life as a young child.
16 Michelangelo

ten, Michelangelo was attending Latin school, where

he began his training as a gentleman. Lodovico
Buonarroti intended for his son to become an
important military leader or government figure.
Perhaps he might become a Florentine banker like
his great-grandfather, or a rich merchant.
In school, according to one of his later biogra-
phers, Michelangelo became well read and he
wrote with flowing handwriting. He enjoyed writing
poetry. In fact, poetry would always be an important
part of Michelangelo’s life, even as an adult. With
such talents, his father thought Michelangelo might
become a learned writer or philosopher. Whatever
Michelangelo might become in life, there was one
career his father did not want for him. Lodovico
Buonarroti did not want his son to become an artist
or a sculptor. Michelangelo’s father did not like
artists, and thought such work was beneath his son.
To Lodovico Buonarroti, “art was considered a
manual craft and a lowly occupation.” 4
While in school, however, young Michelangelo
showed a unique talent for and interest in drawing.
When his interest remained strong, his father tried
to steer him into other interests. Nothing seemed to
The Artist’s Youth 17

While young Michelangelo was in school, he showed a

unique talent for and interest in drawing. Years later,
he would complete this drawing entitled Head of a
Young Woman, showing his attention to the details
of the human form.
18 Michelangelo

work. Lodovico Buonarroti became desperate to

turn Michelangelo away from the world of art. To
discourage him from taking on art as his life’s work,
Michelangelo’s father beat him several times, but
such punishment could not keep the young man
from continuing to dream of becoming a sculptor.
The Artist’s Youth 19

Test Your Knowledge

1 Michelangelo’s father was employed as
a. a banker.
b. a stonecutter.
c. a village mayor.
d. a painter.

2 In what city was Michelangelo born?

a. Florence
b. Rome
c. Venice
d. Caprese

3 Which of the following careers did

Michelangelo’s father not want for
his son?
a. Military leader
b. Artist
c. Philosopher
d. Government figure

4 In addition to art, for which of the following

was Florence known?
a. Its woolens trade
b. Its rivers
c. Its churches
d. Its food
20 Michelangelo

5 Michelangelo was one of how many children?

a. Two
b. Three
c. Four
d. Five
ANSWERS: 1. c; 2. d; 3. b; 4. a; 5. d
His Craft

inally, when his son was 13, Lodovico Buonarroti

F gave in. Michelangelo was turned over to a local
artist, a painter named Domenico Ghirlandaio, to learn.
The apprenticeship began on April 1, 1488. Ghirlandaio
was extremely well known in Florence. He ran an art
school where he taught other young men the arts of

22 Michelangelo

painting and sculpting. Although only 13, Michelangelo

arrived in Ghirlandaio’s workshop three years later
than was customary. Most boys began their appren-
ticeship to artists by age ten.
While under Ghirlandaio’s direction, Michelangelo
learned the skills an artist needed. He studied fresco
painting, a type of painting done on wet plaster that
allowed the paint to absorb into the plaster, keeping
the colors bright. This style of painting was
extremely popular during the Italian Renaissance.
Young Michelangelo’s apprenticeship was supposed
to last for three years, but the student from Tuscany
remained under Ghirlandaio’s instruction for only
one year. Years later, when he wrote his life story,
Michelangelo claimed that he had not learned much
from Ghirlandaio. He would, however, one day put
to good use the skill of fresco painting, when he was
hired to paint the ceiling of an important chapel.
Ghirlandaio may also have introduced Michelangelo
to another form of art—sculpture. The accomplished
master had a strong admiration for early Greek
and Roman sculpture. Michelangelo also became
an inspired admirer of such ancient stone carvings
and sculpture. In fact, the young budding artist
Learning His Craft 23

became convinced that painting was not one of the

nobler art forms. To Michelangelo, sculpture had
no equal in the art world. By 1489, the young artist
left Ghirlandaio’s workshop to take up his studies
in the studio of a noted sculptor named Giovanni
di Bertoldo.
Bertoldo was an old man when Michelangelo
arrived in his studio, but he had studied under
Donatello, one of the great Renaissance sculptors.
The move to Bertoldo’s workshop was an important
step for young Michelangelo. His new sculpting
teacher was the director of one of the greatest collec-
tions of ancient Roman sculpture in Italy. It was
owned by the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici,
a powerful and influential man in both politics and
the art world. Michelangelo was allowed to visit
Lorenzo de’ Medici’s collection, which was located
in the gardens of San Marco.
Under Bertoldo’s direction, Michelangelo became
a skilled sculptor. His talent was so obvious to
his fellow students, some of them became jealous
of him. One student, a young man named Pietro
Torrigiano, became Michelangelo’s rival. On one
occasion, Torrigiano became so angry at Michelangelo,
24 Michelangelo

he struck him with his fist. The story was later included
in The Lives of the Painters, a famous book written
during the Renaissance by an artist named Vasari.
In the story, Torrigiano explained what happened:

This Buonarroti and I used to go along together

when we were boys to study in Masaccio’s [a
famous early Renaissance painter] chapel in
the church of the Carmine. Buonarroti had the
habit of making fun of anyone else who was
drawing there, and one day he provoked me so
much that I lost my temper more than usual,
and, clenching my fist, gave him such a punch
on the nose that I felt the bone and cartilage
crush like a biscuit. So that fellow will carry my
signature till he dies.5

Torrigiano was correct. For the rest of his life,

Michelangelo’s most distinct facial feature would
be his misshapen, flattened nose.


Michelangelo’s talent at sculpting did not pass
unnoticed by Lorenzo de’ Medici. In 1590, Medici
commissioned sculptures to be placed inside the
Learning His Craft 25

vast Medici family library, which housed one of the

greatest collections of manuscripts and books from
the ancient world. Wanting to make a contribution
to the collection, young Michelangelo borrowed a
piece of marble from the library workers and began
chiseling a sculpture of an aged faun, a mythical
creature with a man’s head and a goat’s horns
and ears. The young artist copied his faun from a
battered and broken ancient faun sculpture.
When Lorenzo de’ Medici saw the finished work,
“he marveled exceedingly . . . and praised the
workmanship.” 6
On that occasion, Lorenzo de’ Medici also joked
with Michelangelo, telling the artist he had made
a mistake by sculpting the old faun with a full set
of teeth. Because Michelangelo was an extremely
serious student, he waited until Medici left, then
took his chisel and removed one of the faun’s teeth.
He even drilled holes in the gums where the tooth’s
roots would have been. Later, when the Florentine
ruler saw the change Michelangelo had made, he
was both amused and impressed. “Seeing the
willingness and single-mindedness of the child . . .
he thought to bestow his favor upon such a genius
26 Michelangelo

and take him into his house.” 7 Soon, 15-year-old

art student Michelangelo was living in Lorenzo
de’ Medici’s palace. As for this early sculpture
of Michelangelo’s, the whereabouts of the faun
is unknown.
Within the lavish palace of Lorenzo de’ Medici,
young Michelangelo was allowed to eat at the table
of the Florentine ruler, along with his teacher,
Bertoldo. (Bertoldo, however, would die in 1491.)
Living in the Medici court, Michelangelo came
into contact with some of Florence’s most famous
people, including other artists, painters, sculptors,
and poets. He met several of the Medici family’s
children, including Giovanni, who later became
Pope Leo X. Although he was only a teenager at
the time, Giovanni de’ Medici had already been
appointed to the important church office of cardi-
nal. Michelangelo also met Giuliano de’ Medici.
Decades later, after Michelangelo had become a
famous sculptor, he would design a series of tombs
where Giuliano de’ Medici would be buried.
Here, within the household of the ruling family
of Florence, Michelangelo had access to wealth
and luxury. Art was everywhere within the Medici
Learning His Craft 27

family complex. There were paintings and sculpture,

as well as decorative works. Lorenzo de’ Medici had
one of the largest and grandest collections of ancient
works, including coins, medallions, carved ivory
cameos, and jewelry. One of the poets living in the
palace, Angelo Poliziano, became a close friend and
tutor to Michelangelo, one who “spurred him on in
his studies, always explaining things to him and
giving him subjects.” 8
By his late teens, Michelangelo was determined
to make sculpting his life’s work. Between 1491 and
1492, he produced one of his earliest works that is
still known today, The Battle of the Centaurs. The
small work, sculpted in marble, featured some two
dozen nude Greek men and mythical centaurs
fighting one another in a pitched battle. Already,
Michelangelo’s sculpture was mirroring his fascina-
tion with the human body. The work was completed
just before Lorenzo de’ Medici died in 1492.

After Lorenzo de’ Medici’s death, Michelangelo’s
life changed directions. While the Florentine ruler
had been a strong figure, his son Piero was not. In
28 Michelangelo

After the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici (shown here),

Michelangelo’s life changed direction. He went with the
exiled Medici family to live in Bologna, Italy.
Learning His Craft 29

fact, Piero de’ Medici fell from power within a mat-

ter of months. When the Medici family was driven
from Florence into exile, in 1494, Michelangelo
decided to go with them to live in Bologna, another
Italian city-state. He stayed for about a year, in the
house of a nobleman, a friend of the Medicis’. For
the time being, Florence was no longer the center
of Michelangelo’s life, but his study of sculpting
and of the human body continued. He was hired
to sculpt three marble figures in Bologna. He con-
stantly searched for new ways to learn more about
the human form. Michelangelo even visited the
Hospital of Santo Spirito, where he was allowed to
cut open human corpses to find out how specific
muscles were shaped. In Bologna, things went well
for the young Michelangelo, who was approaching
20 years of age.
By late 1495, despite his comfortable living con-
ditions and sculpting work in Bologna, Michelangelo
decided to return to Florence. He moved back into
his father’s household. Although the young sculptor
was home, Florence was no longer a comfortable
place for an artist such as Michelangelo. A popular
monk named Savonarola was preaching in the
30 Michelangelo

Florence During the Renaissance

y the 1400s, Europe was being redefined by its
B urban centers. Many of these important cities
were located in Italy, including Venice, Milan, and its
neighbor to the south, Florence. Florence’s wealth
was based on extensive banking and manufacturing,
such as the woolens industry. In fact, by the 1400s,
one out of every three Florentines was involved in the
woolens trade, but this city of some 100,000 people
would also serve as the model city of Renaissance art.
It was the first great city of the Renaissance.
Even before Michelangelo was born, such early
Renaissance artists as the sculptors Ghiberti and
Donatello, the painter Masaccio, and the architect
Brunelleschi, had creatively established the style of
a period that Michelangelo built on in all three art
forms—sculpting, painting, and architecture.
During Michelangelo’s long career in Florence,
he produced great art in Florence alongside such
masters as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Such
artists would have been unable to produce the
number of quality art works in Florence or any other
European city without financial support. One of the
leading families that supported the arts in Florence
was the Medici family. They greatly influenced the
Renaissance in Italy and France until the 1700s.
Learning His Craft 31

The Medici family was wealthy. Much of

their wealth came from banking. They used this
economic power to take political power in cities
such as Florence, taking power in that city in
1434. Throughout most of the 1400s, banker
Cosimo de’ Medici and his grandson Lorenzo the
Magnificent controlled power and politics in
Florence. They also controlled its art.
In 1444, Cosimo de’ Medici ordered the building
of the first of the Medici palaces, called the Palazzo
Medici. He also established the first public library
in Europe since the collapse of the old Roman
Empire. His collection of literary works was extensive,
the result of Cosimo de’ Medici spending what
would be equivalent to millions of dollars on rare
manuscripts and books.
It was Medici support of a talented group of
painters and sculptors, however, that helped to
establish Florence as the single most important
art capital of Renaissance Europe. The list
of artists they supported includes the best
and most creative men of their age, such
as Donatello, Filippino Lippi, Masaccio,
Verrocchio, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Da Vinci,
and, of course, Michelangelo.
32 Michelangelo

streets of the city against popular art. Savonarola

believed that much of Italian Renaissance art was
indecent and extremely worldly. He believed that all
art should be about religion. Michelangelo decided
he could not remain in Florence. With the help of
the Medicis, he made plans to go to Rome, another
important Italian city-state and art center.
Rome was the center of life for many people
living in northern Italy. It was also the religious
center of the Roman Catholic Church. The pope
lived there in a church complex called the Vatican.
Many important Renaissance art projects were cre-
ated in Rome, especially at the request of a pope or
other important church leaders. For Michelangelo,
Rome represented both an opportunity and a
limitation for his art. As a freethinking young man,
he did not especially like religious art. It was not
important to him that art encourage someone to
become more religious. Michelangelo once said that
such art was only good “for women, especially old
or very young women, as well as for monks, nuns
and certain aristocrats.” 9 He believed that when he
created a sculpture in the form of the human body,
he was closer to God.
Learning His Craft 33

When Michelangelo arrived in Rome, as a young
man of 22, he carried letters from the Medicis. The
young artist was introduced to Cardinal Raffaele
Riario, one of Rome’s most powerful and wealthy
members of the clergy. Similar to Lorenzo de’ Medici,
the cardinal was also a collector of ancient Roman
sculpture. Michelangelo said the collection included
“many beautiful things.” 10
When he learned that Michelangelo was a sculp-
tor, Cardinal Riario gave him a large block of marble
and told him to “show what he could do.” 11
Michelangelo wrote about the offer in a letter to his
former patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici, on July 2, 1496.
Of the cardinal’s reactions, after showing the young
Florentine artist his collection of old Roman statues,
he wrote:

[He] asked me whether I had courage enough to

attempt some work of art of my own. I replied that
I could not do anything as fine, but that he should
see what I could do. We have bought a piece of
marble for a life-sized figure and on Monday I
shall begin work.12
34 Michelangelo

Michelangelo had not even been in Rome a week

before receiving his first important offer to sculpt.
Ready to prove himself, he set out to carve his
largest sculpture to date, a larger-than-life statue of
the mythical Roman god Bacchus, the god of wine.
Michelangelo had chosen to carve a figure that was
hardly a religious one. His work on the statue took
over a year to complete. Michelangelo, in fact, may
not have finished the sculpture until 1498. He may
also have worked on other statues, but it appears he
either did not finish them or, perhaps, bought other
marble blocks, but never even began work on them.
When he finally finished his statue of Bacchus, he
showed the work to Cardinal Riario. Unfortunately
the cardinal was not happy with the statue. Apparently
the cardinal’s challenge to Michelangelo had never
been important, as the cardinal was only interested
in ancient Roman statues, not modern ones.
The work Michelangelo had poured into his
sculpture was appreciated by someone else, how-
ever. His Bacchus statue was purchased by Jacopo
Galli, a Roman banker who had a garden of ancient
Roman sculpture, just as Cardinal Riario had.
Michelangelo’s meeting with Galli also proved
Learning His Craft 35

Shortly after arriving in Rome, Michelangelo received his first

important offer to sculpt. He would carve his largest sculpture
to date, a larger-than-life statue of the mythical Roman god
Bacchus, the god of wine.

important for what came next in the young artist’s

career. Through Galli, Michelangelo was introduced
to Jean Villiers de Fezenzac, a French cardinal. The
cardinal wanted a religious statue carved. He asked
Michelangelo to chisel a marble statue of the Virgin
Mary holding the body of her son Jesus, after his
36 Michelangelo

death on the cross. The banker Galli probably

worked out the deal for an anxious Michelangelo.
The contract was signed on August 27, 1498.
Michelangelo was to complete the sculpture within
one year and he would be paid 450 ducats. The
statue was to be placed in a public location inside
the Church of St. Peter’s in Rome. Galli expressed
great confidence in his young sculptor friend. He
wrote that the planned statue, known as the Pieta,
would one day be “the most beautiful work of mar-
ble in Rome, one that no living artist could bet-
ter.” 13 Galli could not have known at the time how
right his prediction would prove to be.
Learning His Craft 37

Test Your Knowledge

1 Michelangelo began his apprenticeship in
the arts at what age?
a. 10
b. 13
c. 12
d. 15

2 What is a fresco?
a. A painting on wet plaster
b. A type of sculpture
c. A painting on stone
d. A type of canvas

3 Michelangelo’s rival Pietro Torrigiano

once became so enraged at the young artist
that he
a. destroyed his sculptures.
b. burned his drawings.
c. punched him in the nose.
d. had him expelled from school.

4 Lorenzo de’ Medici first noticed Michelangelo’s

talent from the artist’s sculpture of
a. a faun.
b. a lion.
c. a goat.
d. a soldier.
38 Michelangelo

5 To learn more about the human form, Michelangelo

a. an art school.
b. a hospital.
c. the Olympic Games.
d. a gymnasium.
ANSWERS: 1. b; 2. a; 3. c; 4. a; 5. b
The Heart
of a Sculptor

y late August 1498, Michelangelo was already

B under contract to sculpt a monumental work of art.
The contract was clear and straightforward. It identified
the statue Michelangelo was to complete as the Pieta. It
defined the subject as “a Virgin Mary clothed, with the
dead Christ in her arms, of the size of a proper man.” 14

40 Michelangelo

The artist was to be paid in gold ducats from the

Vatican mint, and the clock was ticking on the
project. Michelangelo had one year to work. The
work was probably intended to mark the cardinal’s
future burial site.
Michelangelo had already begun laying the
ground work for the project, even before the docu-
ments were signed. The young artist had already
visited the famous marble quarries at Carrara, in his
native Tuscany. These previous trips to Carrara were
probably his first to the quarries. Over the years that
followed, he was a regular visitor at the marble pits.
He became close friends with many of the quarry
workers and masons. Sometimes he would stay at
the Carrara quarries for months at a time, scouting
for just the right blocks of marble that he would one
day fashion into famous works of art. As for the
proper marble block for his Pieta, he selected one
that was wider than it was tall. His Virgin Mary, after
all, would be seated holding Christ on her lap.
With the Pieta project assigned to him, Michelangelo
established a workshop and hired a staff of artists.
Michelangelo’s Pieta was not the first one created
during the Renaissance. Earlier examples already
The Heart of a Sculptor 41

The Pieta, one of Michelangelo’s monumental works of

art, showed the Virgin Mary with Christ dead in her arms.

existed, but they had been created by artists of

the Northern Renaissance, not by Italians. Most
early versions had included St. John the Baptist and
42 Michelangelo

Mary Magdalene, a woman who had been a fol-

lower of Christ. Michelangelo, however, was only
interested in creating a grand sculpture of the Virgin
Mother and Jesus. Some art historians suspect
that Michelangelo may have carved his Pieta with
himself and his own mother in mind. She had
died young, remember, when he was just six years
old. Art historians have noted that Michelangelo
chiseled his Virgin Mary to look quite young, perhaps
the age his mother had been when she died.
The fact that Michelangelo’s Virgin Mary looked
so young caused some to criticize him. According to
one source, Michelangelo explained why he carved
Mary in her youth:

I would say to you that such freshness and flower

of youth, besides being preserved in her in so
natural a way, has also possibly been helped by
divine means in order to prove to the world the
virginity and . . . purity of the Mother. . . . There-
fore you should not be surprised if . . . I made the
holy Virgin Mother of God much younger, in
comparison with her Son, than her age would
normally require.15
The Heart of a Sculptor 43

As Michelangelo set out to carve his Pieta, he

wanted to create a work he described as “the heart’s
image.” 16 He had in mind a highly emotional work.
Mary would have Jesus stretched across her lap after
being pulled from the cross. She would be young,
even younger looking than Jesus himself. Her face
would not show grief, but she would look content, as
if accepting her son’s sacrifice. To place Christ
across Mary’s lap and yet help keep Mary’s face as
the focus of the sculpture, Michelangelo had to
make the Virgin larger than life—literally. Although
Jesus lying down was the size of an adult man,
Mary, if she could have stood up, would have been
at least seven feet tall. Her size did not make the
sculpture appear to be out of proportion, however.
Michelangelo addressed this very thing when he
wrote, “It is necessary to keep one’s compass in
one’s eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute,
but the eye judges.” 17 What one sees in Michelangelo’s
Pieta is not a Mary who is too tall, but the Mother of
God who is quiet and comforting.
By the time Michelangelo finished his well-
crafted work in stone, he had created a masterpiece.
He had not been particularly famous before his
44 Michelangelo

Pieta. He was only 24 when the work was completed,

but, after creating the statue, his name would
become famous across Italy and much of Europe.
Despite his youth, he had already proven himself to
be more talented than many of his older, fellow
artists. Michelangelo, it seems, was an overnight
success. Unfortunately Cardinal Villiers was unable
to see the completed sculpture. He had died during
the year Michelangelo was working on the Pieta.
The Pieta would be the only sculpture or work
of art that Michelangelo would ever put his
name to—literally. According to a story written in
Vasari’s account:

One day coming into the place were [the Pieta]

had been installed, Michelangelo found a large
number of strangers from Lombardy praising it
highly. One of them asked another who had made
it, and he replied, “Our Gobbo from Milan.”
Michelangelo kept his counsel though it seemed
rather strange to him that his painstaking work
should be attributed to someone else. One night,
bringing his chisels along, he locked himself in
with a little light and carved his name there.18
The Heart of a Sculptor 45

When Michelangelo carved his name on the

Pieta, he did so in an obvious place. On the sash
that diagonally crossed the Virgin Mary’s chest,
the 24-year-old sculptor chiseled the following
FACIEBA. The translation: “Michelangelo Buonarroti
the Florentine made this.”


In the two years that followed the completion of his
Pieta, Michelangelo worked on several smaller, less
significant projects. Galli, the banker, lined up a
contract for Michelangelo to paint an altarpiece for
a burial chapel of a bishop in St. Agostino, but the
altarpiece was never finished. The uncompleted oil
painting hangs today in London’s National Gallery.
Michelangelo did, within two years of finishing the
Pieta, produce another statue of the Virgin Mary
and Jesus, known as the Bruges Madonna. This time,
however, Jesus was sculpted as an infant. The work
was completed in 1501.
By then, Michelangelo was once again on the
move. He had been in Rome for five years, had
already fashioned a monumental sculpture, and
46 Michelangelo

Jesus was the subject of several of Michelangelo’s

sculptures. This face of Christ, from a crucifix by
Michelangelo, features Jesus as an adult, but
Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna statue, completed
in 1501, portrayed Jesus as an infant.
The Heart of a Sculptor 47

had become famous. Friends began urging him to

return to Florence, the city of his roots. That
spring, the fields of Tuscany were thick with
flowers, and the orchards were fragrant with blos-
soms. As Michelangelo made his way to Florence,
he felt as though he was returning to his homeland.
In some of his writings, he called the city of his
youth his “nest.” 19
In addition to being homesick for his family,
Michelangelo was also interested in returning to
Florence for another reason. According to Vasari,
one of his biographers, the 26-year-old artist had
received letters from some of his fellow Florentines

telling him that, if he came back, he might have

the big piece of marble that Piero Soderini, then
gonfaloniere of the city, had talked of giving to
Leonardo da Vinci, but was not proposing to
present to Adrea Sansovino, an excellent sculp-
tor, who was making every effort to get it.20

It was a block of marble Michelangelo was

definitely interested in, weighing several tons and
standing 18 feet high. It had been worked by
another sculptor, Agostino di Duccio. In Vasari’s
48 Michelangelo

words, “he had hacked a hole between the legs, and

it was altogether misshapen and reduced to ruin.” 21
The work had been so mishandled, it had been left
unfinished. For 35 years, the block of marble had
stood in the work yard of the local cathedral as “a
ghostly reminder to all young sculptors of the chal-
lenge of their craft.” 22
Michelangelo’s interest in the marble block
everyone called “the Giant,” may have begun 12
years earlier, when he saw the sculptures in Lorenzo
de’ Medici’s palace gardens. When he reached
Florence, one of the first things Michelangelo did
was to appeal to the cathedral board to give him
permission to work on the abandoned marble. The
members of the board seemed interested in
Michelangelo’s request, familiar with his talent
from his years in Rome, but their decision did not
come immediately.
In the meantime, Michelangelo found work else-
where. He took employment on a sculpting project
in Siena. He had, in fact, contracted for the work
earlier that spring just before he left Rome. He
would decorate the family chapel of Cardinal
Francesco Piccolomini. The chapel was connected
The Heart of a Sculptor 49

to the cathedral in Siena. Michelangelo had begun

work on a series of 15 statues of various saints, when
he received word from the cathedral board. The
“giant” block of marble was his. By that fall, he
would begin to work on a sculpture that would
become one of his greatest works.
50 Michelangelo

Test Your Knowledge

1 The Vatican gave Michelangelo how long to
complete the Pieta?
a. Six months
b. One year
c. Five years
d. Eighteen months

2 What did Michelangelo’s Pieta depict?

a. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene
b. The Pope
c. The Virgin Mother holding Jesus
d. Angels surrounding Christ

3 Michelangelo frequently visited stone quarries

for what reason?
a. To select the best piece of marble
b. To plan his next sculpture
c. To recruit stonecutters as his assistants
d. To pray for inspiration

4 After leaving Rome in 1501, Michelangelo

traveled to
a. Florence.
b. Venice.
c. Germany.
d. Spain.
The Heart of a Sculptor 51

5 What was “The Giant”?

a. Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture
b. A block of marble left from another artist’s
unfinished sculpture
c. A painting that inspired Michelangelo
d. The nickname of one of Michelangelo’s patrons

ANSWERS: 1. b; 2. c; 3. a; 4. a; 5. b
The Stonecutter
and the
Shepherd Boy

y mid-August 1501, Michelangelo had signed a

B contract to carve a statue from the large, mangled
piece of marble. From the beginning, the subject to be
carved from the marble was that of the biblical hero
David. He had been a shepherd boy who eventually
became king of the Hebrew people of Israel. Even

The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 53

before Michelangelo was accepted as the sculptor

of choice, the official commission referred to the
figure to be carved from the stone block as a
“David.” Michelangelo was to be paid six gold
florins each month for two years while he created
the massive sculpture.
Once he signed the appropriate documents,
Michelangelo wasted little time in taking his chisel
to the block. On September 9, “with a few blows of
a hammer, Michelangelo knocked off a ‘certain knot’
that had been on the chest of the future figure.” 23
Four days later, he rose at dawn and began serious
work on the waiting block. Michelangelo also
ordered that a great, wooden shed be built to house
the marble. Now he would not have to worry much
about the weather, and he would be able to protect
his work. He kept the shed locked at all times.
The sixteenth century was a good time to be
working as an artist or even living in Florence. There
were new and fresh possibilities for artists in the city.
Some things, however, had not changed. The city
was still home to important banks, churches, artist
groups, and artwork. Following the death of Lorenzo
de’ Medici, however, his palace had been stripped of
54 Michelangelo

its art and furnishings. The fiery monk Savonarola

had, by 1498, been arrested, tried for heresy, hanged
in the public square in Florence, and his body had
been burned. Politically, the city was experiencing
both good and bad. While French armies had
menaced the city in previous years, the French king,
Louis XII, was an ally to several Italian city-states,
including Florence. As for city politics, there were
calls for a more stable constitution and a new central
assembly. Florence, now a republic, was extremely
prosperous, and money for artists, painters, and
sculptors was available for the taking. Michelangelo
was not the only artist to return to the reinvented
Florence. In 1500, Leonardo da Vinci came back
from Milan to the city where he had created so
many of his great works of art.
Because the marble block that Michelangelo was
working on was already damaged, and the figure
to be carved from it was so large, Michelangelo had
to figure out how to approach his David. Some
stories say that Michelangelo, once he had access to
the great stone block, immediately grabbed a chisel
and began carving away, “making the chips fly off
violently as he struggled to set free the image he
The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 55

saw within.” 24 He was more of a planner and a

perfectionist than that, however. In fact, he made
sketches of various poses for his shepherd boy, who
was to be nude. He completed detailed drawings
from various models he formed of the different
parts of his figure, including limbs and hands.
Most important, Michelangelo had to determine
whether a figure could actually be carved from the
block, despite the previous work that had been
done on it. Again Vasari described Michelangelo’s
approach, “Michelangelo measured it all anew,
considering whether he might be able to carve a
reasonable figure from that block.” 25 The Florentine
sculptor then made a model of his figure in wax.
As was the style of the day, Michelangelo would
have drawn the face of his shepherd boy on the face
of the marble block, before carving back from the
stone’s front to create a fully shaped human figure.
This approach is described in the writings of another
artist, Benvenuto Cellini, when he writes about how
to carve a figure from marble:

The best method ever was used by the great

Michelangelo; after having drawn the principal
56 Michelangelo

view on the block, one begins to remove the mar-

ble from this side as if one were working a relief
and in this way, step by step, one brings to light
the whole figure.26

Despite the large scale of the statue that

Michelangelo intended to carve, he remained
excited by the challenge of creating a serious work
of art. He worked diligently on his statue and was
not bothered by distractions. Stories recorded how
Michelangelo worked with a furious energy, putting
in many hours. He despised taking time out, even to
sleep. Sometimes, when he slept, he kept his clothes
on, not wanting to take time out to remove them
and put them on the next morning.

Michelangelo wanted nothing to keep him from his
work. He ate little and probably slept even less. His
work habits were described by another artist:

He has always been extremely temperate in

living, using food more because it was necessary
than for any pleasure he took in it; especially
The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 57

when he was engaged upon some great work;

for then he usually confined himself to a piece
of bread, which he ate in the middle of his
labor. . . . [He slept little] for sleep . . . rarely suits
his constitution, since he continually suffers
from pains in the head during slumber, and any
excessive amount of sleep [upsets] his stomach.
While he was in full vigor, he generally went to
bed with his clothes on, even to the tall boots.
. . . At certain seasons he kept his boots on for
such a length of time, that when he drew them
off the skin came away together with the
leather, like that of . . . a snake [shedding
its skin]. 27

The fact that Michelangelo denied himself such

comforts as good food, time to sleep, and personal
cleanliness had almost nothing to do with a lack of
money. He was becoming one of the best-paid artists
in all of Italy.
By early 1504, Michelangelo had largely com-
pleted his colossal statue. Members of a Florentine
government committee visited the sculptor’s work
site and got their first full view of the new David.
58 Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s David, a full-scale model of the biblical

hero, required a great deal of planning. Once he got
started on it, Michelangelo put in many hours carving,
rarely taking time out for sleep.
The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 59

They voted to accept the finished work and to place

it wherever Michelangelo wanted it to go. He
selected the Palazzo della Signoria, the center of
Florentine government.
By mid-May 1504, the city leaders of Florence
ordered Michelangelo’s David to be moved from
the shelter that had been built over his marble
three years earlier. The moving was difficult. Many
workers were used to take the marble figure down
the city’s narrow and winding streets. One eye-
witness described the difficulties as follows:

They broke the wall above the gateway enough

to let it pass. That night some stones were thrown
at the Colossus with intent to harm it. Watch had
to be kept at night; and it made way very slowly,
bound as it was upright, suspended in the air with
enormous beams and intricate machinery of
ropes. It took four days to reach the Piazza. . . .
More than 40 men were employed to make it go;
and there were 14 rollers joined beneath it, which
were changed from hand to hand.28

Fortunately, after a long and difficult moving

process, the statue reached its new home. Although
60 Michelangelo

the move had taken several days, the distance

covered was approximately half a mile.
No one knows why someone decided to throw
rocks at Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Perhaps it was
the work of some misguided vandals. Some have

A Sculptor’s Tools
ichelangelo was an extremely dedicated artist.
M He labored with his great piece of marble to
create his statue of David, putting in long hours and
endless days of backbreaking work. Working with
marble took lots of patience and nerves of steel. One
misdirected blow to a tool might cause damage to a
marble block that could not be repaired. To create a
statue the size of David—which stood 13 feet tall—
would have required tens of thousands of blows with
the tools of the sculpting trade.
Today almost no carving tools dating back
to the Renaissance have survived, but such tools
were probably little different from modern tools
used to sculpt marble and other stone. The primary
tool was one that rarely ever touched the marble
itself—a wooden mallet or hammer. With this
mallet, an artist like Michelangelo would have used
three types of chisels, metal tools struck by the
hammer against the marble to remove some of the
The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 61

suggested the attack was an organized effort by

former supporters of the Medici family, to protest a
new symbol of the new republican government’s
power. Despite the attack, once the statue was set in
its new home, Michelangelo probably then put the

surface and create a new surface, that of the

sculpture itself.
Among Michelangelo’s chiseling arsenal, he
would have used pointed chisels, toothed chisels,
and smooth chisels. The pointed chisels would have
been used first to chip away the outer stone. Then
the artist would have used his toothed chisels to add
detail to the sculpture. Finally he would have taken
his smooth, flat chisels to create the smaller details
on the statue.
While the hammer was used on all three types of
chisels, it was not used with the final set of tools. In
addition to chisels, the sculptor would have used hand-
held rasps and files to create rounded edges and
further definition. Some of that work, like that of
the flat chisels, was among the most delicate. While
strength and talent were the keys to beginning a
great stone work of art, it was in the details that the
artist often proved just how much talent he had.
62 Michelangelo

At 13 feet tall, Michelangelo’s David was larger than

life. This sculpture also brought a larger-than-life image
to Michelangelo as an artist.
The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 63

finishing touches on his David. He probably gave the

statue its final polishing, helping to create the shiny
surface of the “skin.” By early September, it was time
to reveal the work of art that Michelangelo had
labored over for three years. September 8 was the
unveiling. When the people of Florence saw the com-
pleted work for the first time, they were awestruck.
Everyone already knew the name Michelangelo.
After his David was completed, however, he was
thought of as the greatest of all Italian sculptors, and
would be thought so for the rest of his life.
One of the important results of Michelangelo’s
work on his David was the fact that it marked a
growth in his development as an artist. He had
created a large, 13-foot-tall statue out of an aban-
doned and damaged piece of marble. His sculpture
was larger than life. Perhaps Vasari best summed it
all up when he said, “Truly it was a miracle on the
part of Michelangelo to restore to life a thing that
was dead.” 29 In the same way, Michelangelo had
re-created himself as a sculptor. He had emerged
from the experience, as an artist, equally larger
than life.
64 Michelangelo

Test Your Knowledge

1 What was Michelangelo paid for sculpting his
statue of David?
a. Twelve pounds of silver
b. Free room and board
c. Six gold florins per month
d. Free marble for his next work

2 What was Michelangelo’s greatest challenge in

creating his statue of David?
a. Public opinion was against him.
b. The stone was brittle.
c. There was too little marble to work with.
d. The marble was badly damaged.

3 To help him visualize the completed statue of

David, Michelangelo
a. consulted other sculptors.
b. created a wax sculpture of David.
c. completed a series of paintings.
d. asked for more money.

4 What endangered the statue of David as it was

moved to the Palazzo della Signoria?
a. Rock-throwing vandals
b. Narrow clearances and low archways
c. The chance that the ropes supporting it
would break
d. All of the above
The Stonecutter and the Shepherd Boy 65

5 Completion of Michelangelo’s David caused which

of the following?
a. It put a strain on Michelangelo’s health.
b. It bankrupted Italy.
c. It assured Michelangelo’s place among Italy’s
best artists.
d. It was met with public outrage.
ANSWERS: 1. c; 2. d; 3. b; 4. d; 5. c
The Pope
and the Artist

he unveiling of Michelangelo’s David was the

T crowning success for a career that was quickly
becoming legendary. His reputation as an artist,
especially as a sculptor, was firmly established.
Patrons of the arts would flock to him, and, for the rest
of his life, he would always be working. Well-paying

The Pope and the Artist 67

commissions were routine and offers came

from everywhere.
Even as he had labored on his David, Michelangelo
was busy with other art projects. It was probably in
his restless nature to move from one project to the
next, even before he had completed the first. For
the great Florentine sculptor, the years that opened
the sixteenth century were extremely busy. Between
1500 and 1508, Michelangelo worked with a high-
speed outpouring of talent. During those eight years,
he accepted 18 offers to produce various works of art,
from sculpture to painting. Some were very small and
limited, such as producing a bronze dagger. Others
were even more gigantic than his David. One of his
biographers stated that Michelangelo even thought
about accepting an offer to work as an architect
for the sultan of Turkey. Apparently the sultan
wanted someone to build a bridge from the city of
Constantinople across the nearby body of water
called the Bosporus. During these years, Michelangelo
seemed incapable of turning down work.
There was seemingly no end to his productivity.
In the first eight years of the 1500s, Michelangelo
not only carved his giant David and the Bruges
68 Michelangelo

Madonna, he also chiseled seven other sculptures,

including a figure of St. Matthew, four smaller statues
for an altar, and a pair of marble tondi. (A tondi was
a round work of art.) In addition, he produced three
works cast in bronze, including a copy of his David,
which he sent to France, and a seated statue of
Pope Julius II. Pope Julius would become one of
Michelangelo’s most important patrons during the
last half of this productive eight-year period.
While most of the work Michelangelo completed
during these years was sculpture, he also accepted
commissions to paint. One work, painted in 1504,
the same year his David was finished, was the Doni
Tondo (Holy Family ), a round painting measuring
nearly four feet in diameter. The work was paid for
by Florentine businessman Agnolo Doni. The work
featured the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child,
along with St. Joseph. The work also featured vivid
colors—deep blues, dark greens, and orange-gold—
and revealed Michelangelo’s talent as a painter.
While Michelangelo was indeed a talented
painter, he never really enjoyed or even appreciated
the medium. He spoke and wrote about painting
as a waste of time. He stated that oil painting was
The Pope and the Artist 69

only “suitable for women . . . or for idlers.” 30 As

for painting landscapes, Michelangelo wrote that
such works should be forbidden. He called them
nothing but “a vague and deceitful sketch, a game
for children and uneducated men.” 31 Michelangelo
believed that, as an art form, painting was vastly
inferior to sculpture. In one writing, he stated, “The
more painting resembles sculpture, the better I like
it, and the more sculpture resembles painting, the
worse I like it.” 32 These were the words of a man
who would soon begin work on one of the largest,
grandest series of paintings produced during the
High Renaissance.


With so many important works of art, Michelangelo
was also being paid by some of the most important
people in Italy. In Florence alone, he was hired as
an artist by the head of the Florentine government,
four wealthy and powerful families in Florence,
the Cathedral of Florence, a French cardinal,
the French finance minister, and a guild of rich
merchants from northern France. Among those
who employed Michelangelo for his artistic talents,
70 Michelangelo

none was more important or powerful than Pope

Julius II.
Julius II had, only months earlier, been Cardinal
Giuliano della Rovere. He had succeeded Pope
Pius III, whose reign had lasted less than one month.
Pope Julius II was the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV,
who had ordered the construction of a chapel more
than 30 years earlier, which was named for him—
the Sistine Chapel. Like other popes of the 1400s
and 1500s, Pope Julius was not only a religious
leader, he commanded armies as well. He spent
years of his papacy fighting to drive French armies
from Italy, marching under the war cry, “Out with
the Barbarians!” 33 His was a never-ending campaign.
At one point during his reign, he vowed he would
not shave his face again until the last of the French
armies were gone from Italian soil. When he died
in 1513, his beard was long and gray.
Michelangelo’s reputation could not have escaped
Pope Julius II’s attention. The pope’s chief architect
in 1505 was a Florentine named Giuliano da
Sangallo, a friend of Michelangelo’s. It was Sangallo
who suggested his fellow Florentine might be able
to create great works of art for Pope Julius. That
The Pope and the Artist 71

March, the pope commanded Michelangelo to

travel to Rome. The move away from Florence,
where the sculptor of David and the Pieta had
established his career, would be both a blessing and
a curse for Michelangelo.
To be sure, Michelangelo could not have been
called by a more dedicated patron of the arts than
Pope Julius II. For years, Pope Julius had been a
collector of ancient Roman sculpture, and he had
quite a collection. The pope wanted to make Rome
the center of the Renaissance. Up to that time,
Florence had been considered the most important
Italian city for art. Pope Julius dreamed of great art,
sculpture, and architecture. He began calling the
greatest artists in Europe to Rome, to decorate the
existing churches, chapels, and papal buildings. The
pope also wanted new buildings constructed, includ-
ing a new Church of St. Peter’s.


He was a new pope, however, having been placed in
power by one of the strong rulers in Italy, Cesare
Borgia, late in 1503. Pope Julius would reign over
the Catholic Church for nearly ten years. During
72 Michelangelo

Pope Julius II wanted to make Rome the center of the Italian

Renaissance. He wanted new buildings to be constructed,
including St. Peter’s Basilica. The nave of the famous church
is shown here.

nearly all his years on the papal throne, Michelangelo

was in Rome, working on the pope’s elaborate art
projects. When Michelangelo first arrived in Rome,
Pope Julius had no specific plans or commissions
for him. He simply wanted the Florentine sculptor
to be “on hand and ready for use.” 34 After a while,
The Pope and the Artist 73

however, the pope set his sights on a monumental

project equal to the talents of Michelangelo. The
artist would design and construct the tomb where
Pope Julius would be buried upon his death. One
of Michelangelo’s biographers described what
happened next:

At last it occurred to him to use his genius to

construct his own tomb. The design furnished by
Michelangelo pleased the Pope so much that he
sent him off immediately to Carrara [the marble
quarries], with a commission to quarry as much
marble as was needful.35

Michelangelo spent eight months climbing up

and down the quarries, looking for the best pieces
of marble. According to the biographer Condivi,
“Michelangelo stayed in these mountains . . . with
two workmen and his horse, and without any other
provision except his food.” 36 The plan for the tomb
was so elaborate, it included 40 statues. When
Michelangelo returned to Rome, he brought back so
much marble, it “stirred amazement in the minds of
most folk, but joy in the Pope’s.” 37 Although the
scope of the tomb was gigantic and complicated,
74 Michelangelo

This statue of Moses was one of the 40 statues intended

to decorate the tomb of Pope Julius II.
The Pope and the Artist 75

Michelangelo believed he could complete it all within

five years. He could not have been more wrong.
Pride and overconfidence had overtaken the
great Florentine artist. In fact, Michelangelo had
taken on a project so grand and so complicated,
he could not possibly have ever finished it. The
tomb of Julius II was designed to measure 36 feet
long and 24 feet wide, with a height of 36 feet. It
was to be carved entirely from marble and include
places where the 40 larger-than-life statues would
provide depth and decoration.
At the top of the tomb display, Michelangelo was
supposed to carve two angels who supported a sar-
cophagus, a burial box for Julius. The sarcophagus,
however, was only for decoration. According to the
complete plan, the tomb was to include a chapel, “in
the midst of which was a marble chest, wherein the
corpse of the Pope was . . . to be deposited.” 38 If the
project had been completed as planned, it would
have been like nothing in the art world since the days
of ancient Roman emperors, such as Augustus Caesar.
One of the many problems with constructing such
a large, elaborate tomb was that there was no church
in Rome big enough to hold the papal monument.
76 Michelangelo

Pope Julius soon came up with a solution; he would

order the building of a new and larger St. Peter’s,
with a massive and impressive basilica, a rounded
assembly area in a church where the Mass was
spoken, to house his personal monument.
The plan for a new St. Peter’s called for skilled
architects. Sangallo, Michelangelo’s friend, was one
of them. Another was Donato Bramante, one of the
greatest Italian architects of the High Renaissance
from northern Italy, where he had recently worked
in Milan under the military dictator Lodovico
Sforza. After Sforza’s fall from power, Bramante had
arrived in Rome, looking for a patron and for work.
As with Michelangelo, Bramante had a widespread
reputation, and Pope Julius II employed him as an
architect to work on St. Peter’s. This decision would
cause Michelangelo many personal problems for
years to come.
Bramante became interested in creating St. Peter’s
without the help of any other architects who might
become rivals. He and Sangallo did not get along,
and Bramante worked hard at pushing Sangallo off
the project entirely and out of Rome completely.
When Sangallo and Bramante showed two different
The Pope and the Artist 77

plans for a new St. Peter’s to Pope Julius, the Holy

Father chose Bramante’s design over that of his
friend Sangallo. (Sangallo had been friends with
Julius for years, back when he was a cardinal.) A
humiliated Sangallo did not remain in Rome much
longer. No sooner was Sangallo out of the picture,
when Bramante began trying to push Michelangelo
out, as well. The biographer Condivi explained at
least one of the reasons Bramante did not want
Michelangelo to work on Pope Julius’s tomb in his
planned St. Peter’s renovation:

For Bramante, as everyone knows, was much

given to pleasure . . . . The salary he received from
the Pope, though it was great, was not nearly
enough for him, so that he tried to make more
by constructing walls of inferior material . . .
Bramante realized that Michelangelo would
have discovered his mistakes, and so he tried to
deprive him of . . . the influence which he had
gained over the Pope.39

Regardless of whether Bramante was behind the

effort to exclude Michelangelo or not, for some
reason, Pope Julius began losing interest in his tomb
78 Michelangelo

and began separating himself from Michelangelo.

When the Florentine tried one day to pay a visit to
Pope Julius, he was denied entry by a lowly servant,

Two Renaissance Giants as Rivals

ichelangelo’s lifetime overlapped with the
M lives of many of the most important and
talented artists of the Italian Renaissance. One of
them, who today is considered perhaps the most
talented man of this entire artistic era, was Leonardo
da Vinci. While the two men spent their careers
pursuing their individual projects as painters,
sculptors, and architects, their paths did cross on
one occasion.
While Michelangelo was still working on his
David, he signed an agreement to produce a wall
mural for the new grand council hall of the Palazzo
della Signoria in Florence. He was not the only artist,
however, to agree to decorate the great civic chamber.
Leonardo da Vinci had already agreed to produce
a mural for the hall, as well. Suddenly the two
Renaissance giants were rivals.
Both were to paint scenes of different battles
from Florence’s past. Leonardo da Vinci was to paint
the Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo had selected
the 1364 Battle of Cascina as his subject. Soon
everyone in Florence was buzzing about the two
competing artists. On one occasion, the two artists
The Pope and the Artist 79

offending Michelangelo deeply. After writing a short

letter to Pope Julius—“I give you notice that from
this time forward, if you want me, you must look for

happened to meet on the streets of the city and

exchanged insults. Things seemed to be shaping
up for a great artistic rivalry.
Unfortunately the planned murals never
happened. Michelangelo did manage to begin
painting his fresco, as did Leonardo da Vicini.
Near its completion, however, da Vinci’s mural
met with disaster. Always willing to experiment
with his art, the elder artist had used some type of
varnish mixture with his paint, which caused his
paint colors to blur and run together, ruining his
mural. Michelangelo never finished his mural, either,
having been called to Rome by Pope Julius to take
up other, grander art projects.
Today the remains of those murals are all gone,
and only the drawings created by both men remain.
The drawings show the true skill and talent both
men carried through the Renaissance. As one
contemporary artist, Benvenuto Cellini, wrote, “So
long as [the drawings] remained intact, they were
the school of the world.”*
* Robert Coughlan, The World of Michelangelo, 1475–1564.
New York: Time Incorporated, 1966, p. 107
80 Michelangelo

me elsewhere than at Rome”—Michelangelo packed

up and returned to Florence.40
Pope Julius was furious. He sent word to
Michelangelo to return immediately to Rome. The
struggle between the two powerful men went on for
several months. Pope Julius sent three separate papal
messengers to Florence to demand Michelangelo
leave Florence and make his way back to Rome.
By the third contact, the pope was threatening war
between Florence and Rome. Florentine ruler Piero
Soderini called Michelangelo before him. He told
Michelangelo, “You have tried a bout with the
Pope on which the King of France would not have
ventured. . . . We do not wish to go to war on your
account. . . . Make up your mind to return.” 41
At first, when Michelangelo returned, he and
Pope Julius were not on the best of terms. After all,
according to Michelangelo, “I was forced, a rope
around my neck, to go and ask his pardon.” 42 Pope
Julius was in the middle of a military campaign
against two papal states, whose rulers did not accept
his religious power over them. Michelangelo and
Pope Julius met one another not in Rome, but in the
city of Bologna, which Pope Julius had just captured.
The Pope and the Artist 81

Their first encounter was tense. Pope Julius was still

angry at Michelangelo for ignoring his demands for
three months, but when a bishop in the room tried
to explain to Pope Julius that he should forgive the
artist because “such men were ignorant creatures,
worthless except for their art,” Julius redirected his
anger against the bishop and hit him with his papal
staff. 43 As the offending bishop was driven from the
room, everything between the two Italian strong
men—the church leader and the artist—appeared to
be forgiven and forgotten.
Despite commanding an army, Pope Julius still
had time to offer the newly returned Michelangelo
a new project. The pope was interested in a large
bronze-cast statue of himself, which he wanted
placed in St. Peter’s Cathedral. Pope Julius wanted
himself seated on a throne, but, even then, the
statue was to be more than ten feet tall. The pope
offered 1,000 ducats, and Michelangelo, wanting
to please him, agreed. The year was 1506, and the
bronze project would occupy Michelangelo for the
next two years.
82 Michelangelo

Test Your Knowledge

1 What did the painting Doni Tondo depict?
a. A cathedral
b. A bridge across the Bosporus River
c. The Virgin Mary, Christ Child, and
St. Joseph
d. The likeness of a wealthy patron

2 Michelangelo once said that oil painting was

a. his life’s calling.
b. a waste of time.
c. a good way to earn a living.
d. the highest form of art.

3 What work did Pope Julius II first commission

from Michelangelo?
a. The pope’s own tomb
b. A bronze sculpture of himself
c. A painting of Rome
d. A statue of David

4 The original sarcophagus design featured which

of the following?
a. Tons of marble
b. Elaborate sculpting not seen since Classical
c. Two large angels
d. All of the above
The Pope and the Artist 83

5 What did Pope Julius II threaten if Michelangelo

did not return to Rome?
a. A war against Florence
b. To withhold the artist’s pay
c. A ban on Michelangelo’s sculptures
d. Destruction of the statue of David
ANSWERS: 1. c; 2. b; 3. a; 4. d; 5. a
The Great
Ceiling Painter

aking the immense bronze statue of Pope Julius II

M presented problems for Michelangelo. For one, he
remained in Bologna, a city he did not much like, to work
on the project. In addition, he did not have a great deal
of experience in bronze casting, despite having made a
bronze of David, which he sent to France. The 1,000 ducats

The Great Ceiling Painter 85

in payment were not enough, and the great artist was

soon strapped for money to live on. He hired three
assistants to help him, but only rented one room for
the four of them to share. They even slept in the same
bed. In time, Michelangelo fired one of them, and a
second one voluntarily left the project.
In several letters, Michelangelo complained to
family members that the project was a difficult one
for him, saying “I’m busy with nothing but working
day and night, and I have endured and am endur-
ing such labor that if I had another such again I
don’t think my life would be long enough.” 44 The
Florentine sculptor did complete the bronze statue,
however, by mid-February 1508.
A week later, the great, polished bronze statue,
Julius the Colossus, was placed above the main doors
of the cathedral in Bologna. Unfortunately, despite
working for two years, Michelangelo’s bronze statue
did not last long. In 1511, when another Italian army
took control of Bologna, they attacked the statue,
pulling it down with ropes, and the immense bronze
work fell to the floor in a crash.
The great work of Michelangelo was eventually
sold as bronze scrap, which was melted down and
86 Michelangelo

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to create a large

bronze statue to be placed in St. Peter’s Cathedral (shown
here). The statue would depict Pope Julius sitting on a throne.

recast into cannons. With the project completed

that February, Michelangelo was ready to leave
Bologna and return to his native Florentine home-
land. He believed his return to Florence might be
permanent, but Pope Julius soon caught up with
him. Back from his military campaigns, Pope Julius
was ready for Michelangelo to work for him again.
A letter arrived in either late March or early April
The Great Ceiling Painter 87

1508, in which Pope Julius summoned Michelangelo

once again to Rome.
The great sculptor assumed that Pope Julius
wanted him to begin again his work on his tomb.
That was not the case, however. The pope had a
new project in mind for Michelangelo. It did not
involve sculpting, but painting. It appears that
Pope Julius had begun, as early as 1506, to consider
offering Michelangelo a commission to paint the
ceiling of a Vatican chapel built by his uncle, Sixtus
IV. At that time, several of the chapel’s walls had
already been decorated by other earlier, but great
Renaissance artists, such as Perugino, Signorelli,
Botticelli, and Michelangelo’s old teaching master,
Ghirlandaio. These artists had painted scenes from
the life of Jesus and Moses, the Old Testament leader.
The ceiling, however, had never been frescoed.
When Michelangelo was called to decorate the
ceiling, it was painted pale blue, with a scattering of
golden stars.

When Michelangelo realized he was being called
to Rome to paint, not sculpt, he did not want to go.
88 Michelangelo

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint

the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. At first,
Michelangelo was reluctant to pursue the project. By
the time he finished the project, his great fresco
scenes would include more than 340 figures.
The Great Ceiling Painter 89

He did not consider himself a painter. He tried to

get out of it, stating “painting is not my art.” 45
Michelangelo even suggested Raphael, another
artist, a highly skilled and talented painter from
Urbino, as a replacement. Raphael was a younger
kinsman of Bramante’s, but Pope Julius insisted,
offering Michelangelo 15,000 gold ducats, a very
good payment.
Because Michelangelo had little experience at
painting, it does seem strange that Pope Julius
would order him to paint such a large fresco in such
an important Vatican building. The Sistine Chapel
served as Pope Julius’s favorite private chapel. The
chapel was huge and tall. The distance from its
marble mosaic floor to the highest portion of the
ceiling was 68 feet, taller than a modern five-story
building. The entire ceiling to be painted covered
a space measuring nearly 6,000 square feet. It
would be difficult, at best, to design such a gigantic
painting and fill such a great space. In addition, the
ceiling was not flat. It was a vaulted ceiling, meaning
it was curved. Anyone painting on that surface
would need to paint his figures so that the curvature
of the ceiling did not distort or misshape them. Truly,
90 Michelangelo

the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel called for an artist

of extraordinary talent.
Later in life, Michelangelo became convinced
that Bramante was the reason behind Pope Julius’s
insistence that Michelangelo paint the ceiling. In
Michelangelo’s mind, Bramante did not want
Michelangelo’s work on Pope Julius’s unfinished
tomb to take money away from his rebuilding of
St. Peter’s. (Pope Julius’s military campaigns had
put a strain on the Vatican treasury.) Michelangelo
believed Bramante was sure that the project would
prove too big for Michelangelo and would cause
him to fail. This would lower Michelangelo’s stand-
ing in the eyes of Pope Julius, leaving Bramante as
the only artist and architect who could be trusted
and relied upon. There is little proof, however,
that Bramante schemed against Michelangelo
by setting him up to fail at painting the Sistine
Chapel ceiling.
Originally, Pope Julius’s plan for the ceiling was
for Michelangelo to paint the Twelve Apostles, but
Michelangelo, once he was committed to the project,
rejected that idea. “That will be a poor effort,
Your Holiness,” Michelangelo told the pope.
The Great Ceiling Painter 91

“Why?” asked Pope Julius. “Because Apostles are

poor,” explained Michelangelo. The pope gave in
without an argument.
“Do as you please,” he grumbled and left
Michelangelo to plan one of the most monumental
art works in history.46 Before he was finished with
the Sistine Chapel ceiling, his great fresco scenes
would include more than 340 figures.

As Michelangelo designed the subject matter for
his ceiling fresco, he created a large number of
scenes and themes. He took stories from the book of
Genesis, including the creation of the Sun and the
Moon, and plants and animals. There would be
scenes depicting the creation of Adam and the fall
from the Garden of Eden. He wanted to depict
images of Old Testament prophets and sibyls, female
prophets. There would be scenes of the biblical
flood and Noah. Figures from the Scriptures who
were the “ancestors of Christ” were to be included—
such as Moses, Jesse, David, Esther, and Judith. In
his final plan, Michelangelo placed the more grue-
some, sometimes bloody, chapters of Jewish biblical
92 Michelangelo

A detail of God’s and Adam’s hands is shown here, from the

Creation of Adam. This was one of the many biblical images
Michelangelo included in his massive fresco on the ceiling of
the Sistine Chapel.

history in the ceiling’s corners. These included the

boy David chopping off Goliath’s head with a
sword; Judith holding up the bloody head of her
enemy, Holofernes; snakes biting the children of
Israel in the desert; and the crucifixion of Haman,
Queen Esther’s enemy.
Michelangelo intended to paint a biblical spec-
tacle based on salvation. From the Old Testament,
he would show the salvation of the nation of Israel
The Great Ceiling Painter 93

through Moses. Through the “ancestors,” he

would remind all viewers of his grand painting of
the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ.
Before he was finished designing his scenes for the
chapel’s ceiling, his plans led him to decide to
continue painting down onto the walls, as well.
The creative imagination of Michelangelo, it
appears, was even larger than the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo began the work on the Sistine
Chapel vault in early May 1508. It would preoccupy
him for the next four years. Painting the ceiling of
the Sistine Chapel presented special problems to
Michelangelo, from the beginning. There were
problems with the surface he was painting on and
problems with the scaffolding he had for support
while he painted. Michelangelo had very little
experience painting frescoes, but his pride led him
to refuse the help of experienced fresco painters.
The Florentine artist chose, instead, to lock himself
inside the chapel with a few workers and assistants,
to paint the giant mural complex himself. He
allowed no visitors, except by special permission,
including the pope.
94 Michelangelo

One of his first problems was with the scaffold-

ing. Pope Julius had ordered Bramante to put up
wooden frames for Michelangelo to stand on while
he painted. Bramante had chosen to have holes
drilled into the ceiling and to have the scaffolding
hung from a large number of ropes. Michelangelo
questioned Bramante, asking him how he would
fill the holes after the scaffolding was taken down.
The architect’s answer, “We’ll think of it when the
time comes.” 47
When Michelangelo complained to Pope Julius,
the pope ordered Michelangelo to set up the scaf-
folding in his own way. The Florentine sculptor
had men build scaffolding from the floor upward,
a complex framework of wooden beams and plat-
forms, using no ropes at all. (Michelangelo gave
Bramante’s ropes to a poor carpenter, who sold
them and made enough money to provide a dowry
for his daughter, which allowed her to get married.)
As for Bramante, he later copied Michelangelo’s
scaffolding system and used it to complete the work
on St. Peter’s.
Michelangelo had barely begun painting “when
the work began to throw out mold to such an extent
The Great Ceiling Painter 95

that the figures could hardly be seen through it.” 48

He tried to get out of completing the project, telling
the pope that he had already failed, but Pope Julius
called in Sangallo to look at the ceiling. Sangallo
explained to Michelangelo that he had put the
plaster on too wet and that water was oozing to the
surface of his fresco, causing the mold. The mold
caused him to have to scrape off some of his early
painting and begin again.


In addition to technical problems, Michelangelo
had problems with the pope. Pope Julius let many
months go by without paying Michelangelo any-
thing, yet, the pope was always trying to get a
glimpse at the progress of the work. According to
Michelangelo biographer Condivi:

While he was painting, Pope Julius used often-

times to go and see the work, climbing by a
ladder, while Michelangelo gave him a hand to
help him on to the platform. One day the Pope
asked him, as he had often done, when he
would finish and Michelangelo answered,
96 Michelangelo

according to his custom, “When I can.” The

Pope, who was irritable, struck him with his
staff, saying, “When I can, when I can!”
Michelangelo rushed home and began to make
his preparations to leave Rome. The Pope sent
hurriedly after him an amiable young man . . .

Michelangelo’s Family Problems

hile working on the ceiling of the Sistine
W Chapel, Michelangelo faced many problems
and distractions. He dealt with everything from the
pope’s temper to a serious outbreak of mold on the
painting’s surface, but Michelangelo faced other
problems in his personal life, as well. His family
often served as his most constant distraction.
During the years he lived in Bologna and Rome,
Michelangelo gave financial support and personal
advice to several of his family members. He bought
two farms for his father to help support him. He
helped provide money to set up two of his brothers,
Buonarroto and Giansimone, in business as wool
merchants. In fact, Michelangelo spent much of the
money he received from his art projects trying to
provide better lives for his family members.
The Great Ceiling Painter 97

who gave Michelangelo 500 ducats . . . and

apologized for Julius II. Michelangelo accepted
the excuses.49

The very next day, however, Michelangelo and

Pope Julius were arguing again as two frustrated

Michelangelo worried about his family constantly.

When he received a letter about one of his brothers
falling sick, he sent his own letter in response that
same day. “I have a letter of yours this morning . . .
which continues to distress me very much, learning
as I do that Buonarroto is ill.”* He became most
worried for his family in Florence during the summer
of 1512 as he was finishing the chapel ceiling project.
An Italian army was advancing toward Florence.
Michelangelo wrote to his brother Buonarroto,
begging him to leave the city “with all the family
and with all his money as well.”** Ironically, the
army was a papal force, under the command of
Michelangelo’s patron, Julius II.
* Linda Murray, Michelangelo: His Life, Work and Times.
New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984, p. 62.
** Charles H. Morgan, The Life of Michelangelo. New York:
Reynal & Company, 1966, p. 103.
98 Michelangelo

rivals. The pope, in fact, even threatened to toss

Michelangelo off the scaffolding. During the four
years that Michelangelo worked on the ceiling,
he experienced unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and
poverty. In a letter he wrote to his father in January
1509, he said:

I am attending to work as much as I can. . . . I

don’t have a penny. So I cannot be robbed. . . . I
am unhappy and not in too good health staying
here, and with a great deal of work, no instruc-
tions, and no money. But I have good hopes God
will help me.50

The overworked artist was often depressed.

Writing to his brother Buonarroto, he claimed, “I
live here in great toil and great weariness of body,
and have no friends of any kind and don’t want any,
and haven’t the time to eat what I need. . . .” 51
Sometimes while painting the Sistine Chapel,
Michelangelo faced extreme physical challenges.
On one occasion, he slipped from his scaffold and
tumbled down a considerable distance, hurting
himself severely. His biographer Vasari described
The Great Ceiling Painter 99

some of his physical difficulties while working on

scaffolding in the chapel:

He executed the frescoes in great discomfort,

having to work with his face looking upward,
which impaired his sight so badly that he could
not read or look at drawings save with his head
turned backwards: and this lasted for several
months afterward. 52

While Michelangelo complained of his discom-

fort in private letters to family and friends, he also
wrote poetry such as the following, describing
his difficulties:

I’ve got myself a goitre [a swelling in the neck]

from the strain
As water gives the cats in Lombardy,
Or maybe it’s in some other country.
My stomach’s pushed by force beneath my chin,
My beard towards heaven, and my brain I feel
Is shoved upon my nape, and my breast is like a Harpy,
And the brush, ever over my face
Makes a rich pavement with its droppings. . .
100 Michelangelo

In front of me my skin is stretched

And to bend it, folds itself behind
And stretches like a Syrian bow.
Thus, wrongheaded and strange
Emerge the judgments that the mind brings forth,
In that no good shot comes from a crooked gun.
My painting, when I’m dead, defend it Giovanni,
And my Honour too, since I am not in a good place,
And am not a painter either. 53

The great Florentine artist actually worked on

his ceiling masterpiece in two separate blocks of
time. In addition, he usually did not paint during
the two coldest months of each winter. The first
productive period lasted from 1508 through 1509.
During late 1510, the scaffolding had to be moved
beneath the second half of the chapel. This gave
Michelangelo time to make two trips outside Rome.
The first trip took place in September, and the
second in December. By February 1511, he was
back to work. He did not stop until he completed
the ceiling, in October 1512.
On November 1, 1512—All Saints’ Day—Pope
Julius sat on the papal throne in the Sistine Chapel,
The Great Ceiling Painter 101

as visitors were allowed to come and view the finished

frescoes on the chapel’s ceiling. The pope had
already said Mass in the chapel as early as August
1511, but the people of Rome crowded into the
Vatican hall and stared with wonder at the master-
piece Michelangelo had labored over for so long.
As the biographer Condivi wrote, Michelangelo’s
magnificent painting placed the Florentine artist
“above the reach of envy.” 54 Michelangelo had
created a painted masterpiece, and he was only
37 years old. As for Pope Julius, on that November
day, he felt ill, and knew his famous iron strength
was leaving him. By Christmas, he could not eat
and his sleep was fitful. By late February 1513, just
four months after Michelangelo tore down the
scaffold and uncovered the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel for the world to see, Pope Julius II died,
probably from malaria.
102 Michelangelo

Test Your Knowledge

1 What happened to the Julius the Colossus?
a. It was hailed as Michelangelo’s greatest work.
b. It was moved to a museum in Florence.
c. It was torn down, scrapped, and melted.
d. It was moved to St. Peter’s Cathedral.

2 Before Michelangelo began work on the Sistine

Chapel fresco, how was the ceiling painted?
a. Pale blue with a scattering of gold stars
b. With clouds and angels
c. With an image of the Crucifixion
d. It was not painted at all.

3 What challenge did Michelangelo face in com-

pleting the Sistine Chapel fresco?
a. The ceiling was vaulted (curved).
b. The ceiling measured over 6,000 square feet.
c. Mold growing on the wet plaster damaged
his early efforts.
d. All of the above

4 Where did Michelangelo get his inspiration for

the figures depicted in the Sistine Chapel
a. From Pope Julius II
b. From other painters
c. From the book of Genesis
d. From his earlier work as a sculptor
The Great Ceiling Painter 103

5 How long did it take Michelangelo to complete

the Sistine Chapel fresco?
a. Four years
b. Six months
c. One year
d. A lifetime
ANSWERS: 1. c; 2. a; 3. d; 4. c; 5. a

o one really knows how Michelangelo felt when

N Pope Julius II died. The two men had always had
a difficult relationship, but they were alike in many
ways. Both men were strong and forceful, each with a
different artistic vision. The biographer Vasari wrote,
“Michelangelo knew the Pope and was, after all, much

Endless Projects 105

attached to him.” 55 While the Florentine artist prob-

ably felt sadness at the pontiff’s passing, he also knew
that his long abandoned tomb project would be
revived. He could finally, after four years of painting
hundreds of figures on the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel, return to his favorite art form—sculpture.
Indeed, Michelangelo did work on Pope Julius II’s
tomb, from 1513 to 1516. Not long after the pope’s
death, the artist signed a new agreement with Pope
Julius’s heirs, and made his way back to Florence.
As for the new pope, Michelangelo knew him well.
He was Giovanni de’ Medici, who became Pope
Leo X. He was the first Florentine to be elected
pope, and Michelangelo had known him as a boy,
when he lived with the Medicis, under Lorenzo
de’ Medici’s guidance. With the rise of Giovanni
de’ Medici to the papal throne, the Medici family
was, once again, in power—this time over both
Florence and Rome.
During these years, Michelangelo worked almost
without interruption, a significant change from
his days working for Pope Julius, who had been
constantly underfoot. He carved three of his most
important marble works during these years, including
106 Michelangelo

The Dying Slave, The Rebellious Slave, and the seated

statue of Moses. All three were supposed to be
included in the design of Pope Julius’s tomb. By the
time the project was actually completed in its final
form, however, only Moses was included.
The tomb would become a great problem for
Michelangelo. The biographer Condivi referred to
Michelangelo’s 1513 return to the project as follows:
“Michelangelo again embarked upon the tragedy of
the tomb.” 56 It haunted him for more than 40 years—
from 1505 to 1545—as the monumental work
remained unfinished all that time. When the tomb
was finally built, it was a much smaller work than
the ambitious Michelangelo had originally planned.
For much of the time between 1516 and 1534,
Michelangelo’s talents were drained on gigantic
projects “that never saw the light of day.” 57
For three years, he labored on the tomb. During
that time, the new pontiff, Pope Leo X, allowed
Michelangelo to focus on Pope Julius’s monument,
but the cost became an issue with the new pope.
Jealousy may also have entered into the picture.
Pope Leo X may have finally grown tired of his best
sculptor creating a grand work in the name of
Endless Projects 107

Following the death of Pope Julius in February 1513,

Michelangelo worked on several marble sculptures.
The Dying Slave, shown here, was supposed to be
part of the design for Pope Julius’s tomb, but it was
not included in the finished tomb.
108 Michelangelo

another pope. By 1515, he began pulling Michelangelo

away to other projects of his choosing. That summer,
the Florentine artist wrote a letter to his father. “This
summer I must make a great effort to finish this work
[on the tomb] . . . because I think that I shall soon
have to enter the service of the Pope.” 58 He was right.
He did not, however, finish the tomb. It did not
mark the end of his work on Pope Julius’s tomb.
Instead it was just one more postponement. The tomb
project would, in fact, not be completed until 1547,
some 42 years after Michelangelo began work on it.


Pope Leo X lured Michelangelo away from Pope
Julius’s tomb by placing him in charge of creating
a new, monumental project. He was to design
the facade of San Lorenzo, the Medici church in
Florence. In his imagination, Michelangelo had
great plans. “I intend to make of this facade of San
Lorenzo . . . a mirror for architecture and sculpture
for all Italy. . . I will complete the work in six
years.” 59 “With God’s help, I will create the finest
work in all Italy.” 60 The contract for the San
Lorenzo facade was signed on January 19, 1518, and
Endless Projects 109

Pope Leo X hired Michelangelo to design the facade of

San Lorenzo, the Medici church in Florence. One of
Michelangelo’s sketches of the facade is shown here.

the stated time for Michelangelo to complete the

project was eight years.
With great expectations for his Medici project,
Michelangelo visited several marble quarries. The
blocks he had cut out of the quarries were huge. He
constructed a large wooden model of his planned
facade, intending to recreate it all from marble. In
the meantime, the heirs of Pope Julius II appealed
110 Michelangelo

to Michelangelo to keep working on the pontiff’s

tomb. Incredibly, he signed a new contract for a
smaller version of the tomb that would require him
to work on both projects at the same time, one in
Florence, and the other in Rome. Michelangelo had
become greedy.
At one point, Pope Leo X banned Michelangelo
from working on Pope Julius’s tomb altogether.
Caught between projects, Michelangelo made little
progress on either. By 1520, Pope Leo X cancelled
the great marble facade the Florentine sculptor
had always envisioned for Pope Julius’s tomb.
Michelangelo became extremely bitter at the
actions taken by Pope Leo. He wrote to the pope,
the second longest letter of his life, noting his
personal sacrifice on the project that had suddenly
been taken from him, supposedly, because of its cost:

I am not charging to the Pope’s account the fact

that I have been ruined over the said work at San
Lorenzo . . . I am not charging to his account the
enormous insult of having been brought here to
execute the said work and then having it taken
away from. . . . I am not charging to his account.61
Endless Projects 111

Although Michelangelo complained bitterly about

Pope Leo’s decision, the pope would not change
his mind. Instead Pope Leo X placed Michelangelo
on two other projects. He was commissioned to
build a Medici mausoleum at San Lorenzo, and he
would construct the Laurentian Library. The library
was to house the fabulous collection of Medici
books and manuscripts. The mausoleum project
was spurred on by the deaths of two members of
the Medici family—Giuliano, brother to Leo X, and
Lorenzo de’ Medici. In the meantime, Pope Leo
died in 1521, and a new pope, his cousin, Giulio
de’ Medici, was elected as Pope Clement VII.
Michelangelo had also known him as a boy. He
would become one of Michelangelo’s favorite
patrons, proving to be patient and sensitive.
The two men blazed artistic trails together, as
they worked on projects that became some of
Michelangelo’s most acclaimed. For almost 20
years, from 1516 to 1534, Michelangelo worked on
commissions he received from the Medicis. Work-
ing at San Lorenzo, his project took on a grand
scale. More than 300 workers and artisans assisted
Michelangelo on the massive works. He chose men
112 Michelangelo

he knew, for the most part, many of them friends

and seasoned professional artists. Records exist of the
names—nicknames, really—of many of these hand-
picked associates of Michelangelo’s: “Stick,” “Dolt,”
“Fats,” “Lefty,” “Goose,” “Woodpecker,” “Thief,”
“Porcupine,” “She-Cat,” “the Fly,” “Stumpy,” “the
Turk,” “the Little Liar,” “the Basket,” and “Gloomy.”
During many of these years, Michelangelo, who
turned 50 in 1525, worked as painter, sculptor, and
architect, as well as business manager.
During the 1520s, Michelangelo and his vast crew
of assistants and artisans did make progress on the
Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo and the family library.
There were serious interruptions, however. In the
spring of 1527, foreign troops under Roman Emperor
Charles V, invaded Italy and ransacked the city of
Rome. Michelangelo fled the city, as did the pope
and his family. This invasion allowed Florence to
attempt to throw off Medici rule, and Michelangelo,
who loved liberty, sided with the rebels and the
Florentine Republic. At one point, the rebels placed
Michelangelo in charge of designing fortifications
for the city. For his part, Michelangelo, a loyal
Florentine, designed and directed the erection of
Endless Projects 113

In addition to the Medici Chapel in San Lorenzo, Michelangelo

also worked on the Medici family library. The reading room
of the library is shown here.

massive defenses around the city, allowing Florence

to hold out for ten months during a siege laid by
Medici supporters. (By 1529, the pope and Emperor
Charles had come to an agreement, and the Medici
family was back in power the following year.)
Florence finally fell on August 12, 1530. Fortunately
for Michelangelo, Pope Clement forgave him for
supporting Florence during these years, and instructed
114 Michelangelo

him to take up work on the project at San Lorenzo.

Michelangelo, however, had, by then, lost much of his
sense of commitment to the Medici church project.
Florence fell under the leadership of a tyrannical
strongman, which drove Michelangelo away from
the city and countryside of his youth and back to
Rome. His brother Buonarroto had died of the
plague in 1527, and his father died in 1531. In 1534,
he left Florence, never to return again. For the next
30 years of his life, he stayed in Rome, exiled from his
homeland. Just two days after Michelangelo arrived
in Rome, on September 23, Pope Clement died.
As always, Rome still had its lures for Michelangelo.
That same year, a new pope came to power, Paul III,
who would remain the head of the Roman Catholic
Church for 15 years. As with Pope Clement, he
and Michelangelo had a mutual respect for one
another. During his entire reign, Pope Paul III
kept Michelangelo busy on a multitude of projects.
One of the first projects he assigned to the exiled
Florentine was to paint the wall behind the altar of
the Sistine Chapel, but Michelangelo still wanted to
continue work on the tomb of Pope Julius II. When
the artist protested, unwilling to take up another
Endless Projects 115

massive painting project, the pope delivered a harsh

response, saying, “I have nursed this ambition for
thirty years, and now that I’m pope am I not to have
it satisfied? . . . I’m determined to have you in my
service, no matter what.” 62
In 1535, to ensure Michelangelo’s loyalty, Pope
Paul appointed him “Artist, Chief Architect, Sculptor
and Painter to the Apostolic Palace,” and granted
him an annual salary of 1,200 gold ducats.
Michelangelo, in return, accepted the task of deco-
rating the Sistine Chapel. While painting the altar
wall had not been Michelangelo’s choice, he was
thrilled to be able to replace the existing altar
murals, which had been painted earlier by an artist
named Perugino. He was a painter Michelangelo did
not like. That year, Michelangelo turned 60 years
old. Several of his old Renaissance rivals were
already dead. Leonardo da Vinci had died in 1519,
and the youthful artists Raphael and Bramante
had died the following year. Michelangelo was the
undisputed living master of the Italian Renaissance.
116 Michelangelo

Test Your Knowledge

1 What did Michelangelo do after the death of
Pope Julius II?
a. He retired.
b. He worked tirelessly on new sculptures.
c. He took a vacation in Spain.
d. He began to teach at Italy’s art academies.

2 Michelangelo’s work during this time included

a. Moses.
b. The Dying Slave.
c. The Rebellious Slave.
d. all of the above.

3 What reason did Pope Leo X give Michelangelo

for stopping work on the tomb of Pope Julius?
a. The project had become too expensive.
b. He was jealous of Pope Julius.
c. He wanted Michelangelo to return to
d. He didn’t like the quality of the stone
the artist was using.

4 Pope Clement VII was

a. Michelangelo’s childhood friend.
b. patient and sensitive about Michelangelo’s
c. one of Michelangelo’s greatest patrons.
d. all of the above.
Endless Projects 117

5 While working at San Lorenzo, Michelangelo

employed how many artisans and assistants?
a. 50
b. 1,000
c. Over 300
d. 12
ANSWERS: 1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. d; 5. c
rom 1536 until 1541, Michelangelo threw himself
F into painting a vast mural titled The Last Judgment.
The altar wall measured approximately 50 feet high and
40 feet wide, but the space to be decorated was much
smaller than the chapel ceiling, which Michelangelo had
completed in less than four years. The Florentine artist


was getting older. Despite his age, however, he worked

with tremendous energy, again painting from a scaf-
fold erected in the Sistine Chapel. At one point, he
fell from the scaffolding and seriously injured his
leg, but the accident did not stop his progress.
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment was just as heavily
populated as his ceiling frescoes, but was not nearly as
complicated in structure and style. Dozens and dozens
of people were included in the painting, but rather
than including many people from the pages of the
Bible, Michelangelo’s wall painting was divided into
two halves. Its subjects fell into one of two groups—
“the saved,” who were bound for heaven, and “the
lost,” who were being condemned to hell. The paint-
ing’s figures included horned demons pulling various
types of sinners down. There were serpents and
wild-eyed satanic creatures, including Charon, the
ancient Roman god of the underworld. Horror was
frozen on the faces of many of those who found them-
selves plunged into the realm of the condemned.
Presiding over the entire painting, however,
Michelangelo placed the risen Christ with the Virgin
Mary at his right hand. He did not paint the common
model of a Renaissance Jesus. Instead, Jesus was
120 Michelangelo

young, clean shaven, and muscular, a handsome

figure who was seen as the answer to the prayers of
millions of the faithful. Angels lifted them up to the
heavenly realms. The saved were made up of vari-
ous saints, including St. Lawrence, St. Bartholomew,
and others depicted by Michelangelo. Bartholomew
was shown near the foot of the Son of God, holding
the drooping remains of his skin. (According to
tradition, Bartholomew had been skinned alive
with a knife.) The face of the flayed skin was a self-
portrait of Michelangelo.
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment was completed in
1541 and unveiled on October 31, All Saints Eve,
29 years to the day from the time his Sistine Chapel
ceiling frescoes had been revealed to the public. His
latest project was a success, but was not without
controversy. Some were critical of the number of
nude figures, including that of Christ. A few years
after the mural was completed, another pope decided
to cover up some of the exposed body parts. He
hired one of Michelangelo’s assistants, Daniele da
Volterra, to drape cloth here and there on various
private parts, work which earned Volterra the nick-
name, “Daniele the Breeches Maker.” Despite such

problems, The Last Judgment was another masterpiece

for Michelangelo. As biographer Vasari described the
work, The Last Judgment “marvelously portrayed all
the emotions that mankind can experience. . .
Michelangelo’s figures reveal thoughts and emotions
that only he has known how to express.” 63


By 1541, Michelangelo had become an old man. He
was 66 years old, but he had not stopped working.
Within months of finishing The Last Judgment, he
began working on two frescoes for the Pauline
Chapel in the Vatican—The Conversation of St. Paul
and The Crucifixion of St. Peter. The paintings took
eight years to complete. During that time, Pope Paul
appointed Michelangelo as architect-in-chief of
St. Peter’s, even as the aged Florentine artist worked
on other projects, including those for the Farnese
family palace and rebuilding of Rome’s fortifica-
tions. (Pope Paul III was a member of the Farnese
family.) Michelangelo carved a work called The
Deposition, depicting Jesus being taken down from
the cross. The sculpture included the follower of
Christ named Nicodemus, as well as the Virgin
122 Michelangelo

Mary. Even in his later years, Michelangelo contin-

ued to sculpt marble with his aged hands. Vasari
stated, “His genius and his strength alike needed the
act of creation. . . . He attacked a block of marble,
cutting out of it four figures larger than life,
amongst them the dead Christ.” 64 Despite his age,
he worked with marble

with such fury one felt that the stone must shatter;
he would break off big fragments, three or four
inches thick, with a single blow, cutting them so
close to the line, that if he had gone a hairs-
breadth further, he risked losing everything.65

The old sculptor slept little, choosing to work day

and night. He attached a candle to his cap to help
him see while carving after a Roman sunset. The
work on The Deposition was never truly completed,
and Michelangelo continued to work on it for many
more years.
Additional popes came and went, but still
Michelangelo continued his work in Rome, with
each new pontiff reappointing the Florentine artist
as the chief architect of St. Peter’s. Much of the work
was completed during the reign of Pope Pius IV,

With age, Michelangelo began to slow down. This marble

bust, Brutus, was one of only three sculptures that
Michelangelo completed in the last 30 years of his life.

between 1559 and 1565. Despite his best efforts,

however, Michelangelo was slowing down with each
passing year. During the last three decades of his life,
he only completed three sculptures: the Rachel and
124 Michelangelo

the Leah for Pope Julius II’s tomb and a marble bust,
Brutus. In 1555, Michelangelo reached the age of
80, an incredible accomplishment in an era when
most people did not even live to 40 years of age.
During his final years, he began to suffer physical
problems, including kidney stones. He carved less,
wrote more poetry, and shared more time with friends.
In his faith, he became more optimistic than ever
before, but in his art, he was still his worse critic. Just
days before his death, he penned the following: “No
one has full mastery / before reaching the end / of his
art and his life.” 66 He had seen a full and productive
career that spanned more than 75 years, but still, as
death approached, he did not feel he had accom-
plished enough or that his works were good enough.
By the time of his death, he had worked for nine
popes. The end came in February 1564. On the
twelfth day of the month, he spent the day chiseling
away at his Deposition, which he had begun 15 years
earlier. Two days later, he came down with a fever.
Nonetheless, he went for a long horseback ride in
the rain. For two more days, he fought against
taking to his sickbed. He died on February 18, just
two weeks short of his eighty-ninth birthday. Church

officials wanted to bury him within St. Peter’s, but

Michelangelo had left instructions to his assistants
“to return [me] to Florence when I am dead, since I
was unable to return alive.” 67 By March 10, 1564, his
body was back in Florence, and was placed in the
Santa Croce Church. There his coffin was opened to
reveal Michelangelo dressed in black, including his
hat and boots with spurs, as if ready to go somewhere.
For some, the spirit of the Renaissance died with
Michelangelo. Certainly Italian art, indeed, the art
of Europe, would never be the same or experience
such an exciting and productive time of artistic
creativity. The same year Michelangelo died, the
great astronomer Galileo and the brilliant English
playwright William Shakespeare were born. Europe
was giving birth to a new age, but the shining
spirit of Michelangelo would never be forgotten.
Michelangelo is remembered in the pages of count-
less books and in his art, which today may be found
from Florence to Rome, and beyond. He is remem-
bered in the words of his biographer Vasari who
said, “He made me astonished that the ancients are
surpassed by the beauty and grace of what his divine
genius has been able to achieve.” 68
126 Michelangelo

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Europe. . .

ost people remember the Renaissance as a great
M period for the arts. It was in this world that
Michelangelo lived for nearly 90 years, but there were
many other things happening in Europe during the life
of this remarkable artist. It was certainly a busy era, one
that took Europeans places they had never gone before.
One of those places was America. When Michelangelo
was still a teenager, another Italian named Christopher
Columbus sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean in
search of the riches and spices of the Orient. Instead
he reached a world no European knew existed. European
colonization of North America, Central America, and
South America soon followed. Five years later, another
European sea captain, Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama,
sailed around the southern tip of Africa, opening up a
direct route to the wealth of the East. A generation
later, the Spanish sailor Ferdinand Magellan’s ships
sailed completely around the earth. Suddenly the world
seemed much larger to Europeans.
European technology was also changing during
Michelangelo’s lifetime. During the late 1400s, printing
was experiencing a revolution with the development
of the printing press and movable type. German printer
Johann Gutenberg helped lead the way by publishing
multiple copies of the Bible.
Christianity was also changing. By the early
1500s, a German theologian named Martin Luther

was challenging the Roman Catholic Church and

leading a movement that became known as the
Reformation. The result was the establishment of
Protestantism, as many new groups of Christian
believers broke from Catholicism.
In the sciences, great minds were also making
new discoveries. Near the end of Michelangelo’s life,
Polish astronomer Copernicus published a book in
which he correctly stated the Sun was the center of
our solar system, not Earth, as nearly everyone had
believed for thousands of years.
Two other important books of the Renaissance
were produced by a pair of fellow Italians during
Michelangelo’s later years. The books were The
Courtier, by Baldassare Castiglione, and The Prince,
by Niccolò Machiavelli. Both works presented the
new ideal model of what a man ought to be in early
sixteenth-century Europe. Castiglione presented
the picture of the ideal Renaissance man, one who
is well rounded and multitalented. Machiavelli’s
work presented a good leader as one who is
both wise and virtuous, as well as self-interested
and cunning.
The books were important works in their time.
In fact, Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman
Empire only kept three books by his bedside—those
by Castiglione and Machiavelli and the Bible.
128 Michelangelo

Test Your Knowledge

1 Michelangelo took how long to complete
The Last Judgment?
a. Four years
b. One year
c. Six months
d. Twelve years

2 Which figure(s) did Michelangelo include in

The Last Judgment?
a. Horned demons
b. Charon, Roman ruler of the Underworld
c. The risen Christ
d. All of the above

3 What controversy surrounded The Last Judgment?

a. Some believed it was too expensive.
b. Some believed it was too large.
c. Some were offended by its depiction
of nudity.
d. Some thought it was not Michelangelo’s
best work.

4 How many Popes commissioned Michelangelo’s

work during the artist’s lifetime?
a. Nine
b. Five
c. Three
d. Twelve

5 Looking back on his own work, Michelangelo

considered himself
a. to have mastered his craft.
b. a legend.
c. still not sufficiently accomplished.
d. a failure.
ANSWERS: 1. a; 2. d; 3. c; 4. a; 5. c
Chronology & Timeline

1475 Michelangelo is born on March 6, in Caprese, Italy,

near the city-state of Florence.
1483 Painter Raphael is born.
1488 Apprenticeship for Michelangelo begins in the
workshop of master painter Ghirlandaio.
1489 Michelangelo is introduced into the household of
strongman ruler Lorenzo de’ Medici; he remains in
the house of Lorenzo de’ Medici until 1492.
1492 Lorenzo the Magnificent dies in Florence.
1494–1496 Michelangelo travels to Venice and Bologna and
finally arrives in Rome during the summer of 1496.

1519 Michelangelo is commissioned to

design and decorate the Medici Tombs;
Leonardo da Vinci dies the same year

1498 Completion of
1475 Birth of Michelangelo’s first
Michelangelo sculpture, the Pieta

1489 Introduction of 1501 Michelangelo is
Michelangelo into the commissioned to sculpt
house of the Medicis his David in marble for
the Piazza della Signoria
in Florence

Chronology & Timeline

1498 Michelangelo completes his first masterpiece sculpture,

the Pieta.
1501 Michelangelo is commissioned to sculpt his David
in marble for the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.
1503 Florence city leaders commission the sculpting of the
Twelve Apostles; the project is later cancelled in 1505.
1504 Michelangelo paints the Doni Tondo.
1505 Back in Rome, Michelangelo is commissioned by
Pope Julius II to design his tomb.
1508 In April, the Florentine artist is commissioned to begin
decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; the frescoes

1534 Michelangelo creates early

drawings for The Last Judgment on 1564
the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel; Michelangelo
he completes the wall frescoes in dies on
the chapel by 1541 February 18

1530 Fall of the 1546 The pope appoints
Republic of Michelangelo as the chief
Florence architect for the completion
of St. Peter’s in Rome


take four years to complete and are officially

inaugurated on October 31, 1512.
1511 Vasari, one of Michelangelo’s most important
biographers, is born.
1513 Pope Leo X, the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, is elected.
1518 Michelangelo is commissioned to create the facade of
the San Lorenzo Church, but the project is never
1519 Michelangelo is commissioned to design and decorate
the Medici Tombs; Leonardo da Vinci dies the same
1520 Michelangelo’s younger rival, Raphael, dies.
1523 Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici) succeeds Adrian VI
as pope.
1524 Michelangelo takes on the decoration of the Laurentian
Library for the Medici family.
1527 Rome is sacked by imperial troops of Emperor Charles
V; the Florentine Republic is reestablished, following
the collapse of the house of Medici.
1529 Michelangelo is appointed to design fortifications for
the city of Florence; before the year is over, he will
flee the city into exile in Venice, only to return before
year’s end to Florence.
1530 The Republic of Florence falls.
1534 Pope Paul III is elected; Michelangelo creates early
drawings for The Last Judgment on the altar wall of
the Sistine Chapel; Michelangelo completes the wall
frescoes in the chapel by 1541.


1537 Michelangelo sculpts Brutus bust for Cardinal Ridolfi.

1546 The pope appoints Michelangelo as the chief architect
for the completion of St. Peter’s in Rome.
1555 Michelangelo carves The Deposition, but the
work remains unfinished through the rest of
Michelangelo’s life.
1557–1561 Michelangelo submits various models for St. Peter’s
to the pope.
1564 Michelangelo dies on February 18.


CHAPTER 2 15. Linda Murray, Michelangelo:

The Artist’s Youth His Life, Work and Times. New
1. Gilles Neret, Michelangelo: York: Thames and Hudson,
1475–1564. New York: Barnes & 1984, p. 20.
Noble Books, 2001, p. 13. 16. Coughlan, The World of
2. Howard Hibbard, Michelangelo. Michelangelo: 1475–1564,
New York: Harper & Row, p. 74.
Publishers, 1974, p. 16. 17. Ibid.
3. Charles H. Morgan, The Life of
18. Anthony Hughes, Michelangelo.
Michelangelo. New York: Reynal
London: Phaidon Press
& Company, 1966, p. 54.
Limited, 1997, p. 58.
4. William Wallace, Michelangelo:
19. Coughlan, The World of
The Complete Sculpture, Painting,
Michelangelo: 1475–1564,
Architecture. New York: Hugh
p. 85.
Luter Levin Associates, 1998, p. 13.
20. Ibid.
21. Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the
Learning His Craft
Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors,
5. Hibbard, Michelangelo, p. 20.
and Architects. New York:
6. Ibid. The Modern Library, 1959,
7. Ibid., p. 21. pp. 318–319.
8. Ibid., p. 22. 22. Coughlan, The World of
9. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564, Michelangelo: 1475–1564, p. 85.
p. 15. CHAPTER 5
10. Wallace, Michelangelo: The The Stonecutter and
Complete Sculpture, Painting, the Shepherd Boy
Architecture, p. 17. 23. Hibbard, Michelangelo, p. 52.
11. Ibid. 24. Morgan, The Life of Michelangelo,
12. Hibbard, Michelangelo, p. 38. p. 61.
13. Ibid., p. 43. 25. Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent
Painters, Sculptors, and Architects,
p. 319.
The Heart of a Sculptor
26. Hibbard, Michelangelo, p. 56.
14. Robert Coughlan, The World of
Michelangelo: 1475–1564. New York: 27. Coughlan, The World of
Time Incorporated, 1966, p. 73. Michelangelo, p. 87.


28. Ibid., p. 93. 46. Rolf Schott, Michelangelo.

29. Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent New York: Tudor Publishing
Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Company, 1963,
p. 319. p. 58.
47. Murray, Michelangelo: His Life,
The Pope and the Artist Work and Times, p. 55.

30. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564, 48. Coughlan, The World of

p. 23. Michelangelo, p. 113.

31. Ibid. 49. Ibid.

32. Ibid. 50. Hibbard, Michelangelo,
p. 118.
33. Murray, Michelangelo: His Life,
Work and Times, p. 50. 51. Ibid., p. 119.
34. Coughlan, The World of 52. Murray, Michelangelo: His Life,
Michelangelo, 107. Work and Times, p. 67.
35. Ibid. 53. Ibid.
36. Hibbard, Michelangelo, p. 89. 54. Coughlan, The World of
37. Coughlan, The World of Michelangelo, p. 113.
Michelangelo, p. 107. CHAPTER 8
38. Ibid. Endless Projects
39. Ibid., p. 109. 55. Coughlan, The World of
40. Ibid. Michelangelo, p. 131.

41. Ibid. 56. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564,

p. 49.
42. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564,
p. 24. 57. Ibid.
43. Murray, Michelangelo: His Life, 58. Coughlan, The World of
Work and Times, p. 53. Michelangelo, p. 135.
59. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564,
The Great Ceiling Painter p. 55.

44. Hibbard, Michelangelo, 60. Wallace, Michelangelo: The

p. 97. Complete Sculpture, Painting,
Architecture, p. 22.
45. Wallace, Michelangelo: The
Complete Sculpture, Painting, 61. Ibid., p. 24.
Architecture, p. 21. 62. Ibid., p. 27.


CHAPTER 9 67. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564,

The Last Judgment p. 88.
63. Hibbard, Michelangelo, p. 254. 68. Wallace, Michelangelo: The
64. Neret, Michelangelo: 1475–1564, Complete Sculpture, Painting,
p. 85. Architecture, p. 29.
65. Ibid.
66. Wallace, Michelangelo: The
Complete Sculpture, Painting,
Architecture, p. 28.


Clements, Robert J., ed. Michelangelo: A Self-Portrait. Englewood

Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
Coughlan, Robert. The World of Michelangelo, 1475–1564. New York:
Time, 1966.
DeVecchi, Pierluigi. Michelangelo: The Vatican Frescoes. New York:
Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996.
Gilbert, Creighton. Michelangelo. New York: McGraw-Hill Book
Company, 1967.
Harris, Nathaniel. Renaissance Art. New York: Thomson Learning,
Hibbard, Howard. Michelangelo. New York: Harper & Row,
Publishers, 1974.
Hughes, Anthony. Michelangelo. London: Phaidon Press Limited,
Morgan, Charles. The Life of Michelangelo. New York: Reynal &
Company, 1966.
Murray, Linda. Michelangelo: His Life, Work and Times. New York:
Thames and Hudson, 1984.
Neret, Gilles. Michelangelo, 1475–1564. New York: Barnes & Noble
Books, 2001.
Schott, Rolf. Michelangelo. New York: Tudor Publishing Company,
Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and
Architects. New York: The Modern Library, 1959.
Wallace, William E. Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting,
Architecture. New York: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 1998.
Wright, Susan. The Renaissance: Masterpieces of Art and Architecture.
New York: Todtri Book Publishers, 1997.

Further Reading

Carvalho de Magalhaes, Roberto. Michelangelo. New York: Enchanted

Lion Books, 2003.
Connolly, Sean. Michelangelo. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens, 2003.
Cook, Diane. Michelangelo: Renaissance Artist. Philadelphia:
Mason Crest Publishers, 2002.
Langley, Andrew. Michelangelo. Chicago: Raintree Publishers, 2003.
Rachlin, Ann. Michelangelo. New York: Barron’s Educational Series,
Stanley, Diane. Michelangelo. New York: HarperCollins Children’s, 2003.
Venezia, Mike. Michelangelo. New York: Scholastic Library Publishing,

Art Cyclopedia: Michelangelo Buonarroti

Life of Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1474–1564

Web Gallery of Art: Michelangelo Buonarroti

Web Museum, Paris: Michelangelo

Michelangelo: Artist and Man. (Biography Series) A&E Home Video,
The Renaissance. ( Just The Facts Learning Series) Goldhil Home
Media International, 2001.


Academy Museum, David Michelangelo living with,

in, 1–2.See also David 13–14, 29
Adam, and Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo raised by
ceiling frescoes, 3, 91 stonecutter, 11
and Michelangelo’s
Bacchus, sculpture of, education, 14, 16
34–35 and Michelangelo’s work on
Bartholomew, St., in The Julius II’s tomb, 108
Last Judgment, 120 and Michelangelo’s work on
Battle of the Centaurs, The, Sistine Chapel, 98
27 and opposed to
Bertoldo, Giovanni di, Michelangelo becoming
23–24, 26 artist, 16, 18, 21
Bible, as inspiration for
The Last Judgment, 119 Caprese, Michelangelo’s early
Bologna years in, 9–10
Julius II capturing, 80 Carrara, and Michelangelo’s
and Julius the Colossus, 81, trips to marble quarries, 40,
84–86 73
Michelangelo in, 28–29, Cellini, Benvenuto, 55–56
80–81, 84–86 Charles V
Borgia, Cesare, 71 and Florence, 113
Botticelli, 87 and troops ransacking
Bramante, Donato, 76–77, Rome, 112
89, 90, 94, 115 Charon, in The Last Judgment,
Bruges Madonna, 45, 67–68 119
Brutus, 124 Clement VII, Pope, 111
Buonarroti, Buonarroto death of, 114
(brother), 98, 114 and Michelangelo’s support
Buonarroti, Francesca of Florentine Republic,
(mother), 10, 12–13 113
death of, 12 and Michelangelo’s
and Pieta, 42 work on San Lorenzo,
and poor health, 11 113–114
Buonarroti, Ludovico (father), Condivi, 73, 77, 95–97, 101,
10 106
death of, 114 Conversation of St. Paul, The,
as mayor of Caprese, 10 121


Crucifixion of St. Peter, The, Esther, and Sistine Chapel

121 ceiling frescoes, 91
Eve, and Sistine Chapel
David, 1–2, 52–57, 59–61, 63 ceiling frescoes, 3
from abandoned marble,
47–48, 49, 52, 54, 55, Farnese family palace,
63 Michelangelo working on,
in Academy Museum, 121
1–2 faun, Michelangelo’s
completion of, 57, 59, sculpture of, 25–26
61, 63 flood (biblical), and Sistine
copy of cast in bronze, Chapel ceiling frescoes,
68, 84 91
Michelangelo’s aids for Florence
visualizing, 54–55 and abandoned block of
Michelangelo’s work on, marble, 47–48. See also
53, 54–57, 67 David
in Palazzo della Signoria, and art, 10–11
59–63 da Vinci in, 54
results of, 63, 66–67 Michelangelo born near,
rocks thrown at, 60–61 9–10
unveiling of, 63, 66 Michelangelo buried in,
David, on Sistine Chapel 125
frescoes, 91, 92 Michelangelo designing
da Vinci, Leonardo, 4, 47, 54, fortifications for, 112
115 Michelangelo fleeing in
Deposition, The, 121–122, exile from, 114
124 Michelangelo in, 9–14,
Donatello, 23 16, 18, 21–29, 32, 47,
Doni, Agnolo, 68 47–48, 52–57, 59–61,
Doni Tondo (Holy Family), 63, 66–69
68 and Michelangelo leaving
Duccio, Agostino di, 47 Julius II, 79–80
Dying Slave, The, 106 Michelangelo’s
apprenticeship in, 21–24
Eden, Garden of and Sistine Michelangelo’s art in, 1–3
Chapel ceiling frescoes, Michelangelo’s family
91 moving to, 10


as Republic, 54, 61 Israel, salvation of and Sistine

and Savonarola, 29, 54 Chapel ceiling frescoes,
and woolens trade, 10–11. 92–93
See also Medici family
France Jesse, and Sistine Chapel
and armies in Italy, 70 ceiling frescoes, 91
bronze copy of David in, Jesus
68, 84 and Bruges Madonna, 45
frescoes and The Deposition, 121
Michelangelo studying, and Doni Tondo (Holy
22 Family), 68
in Pauline Chapel, 121. and The Last Judgment,
See also under Sistine 119–120
Chapel and Pieta, 3, 35–36, 39–45
and Sistine Chapel ceiling
Galileo, 125 frescoes, 93
Galli, Jacopo, 34, 35, 36, 45 and Sistine Chapel wall
Genesis, book of as fresco, 87
inspiration for Sistine John the Baptizer, St., and
Chapel frescoes, 91–93 Pietas, 41
Ghirlandaio, Domenico, Joseph, St., and Doni Tondo
21–23, 87 (Holy Family), 68
Giant, The, 47–48, 49 Judith, and Sistine Chapel
Goliath ceiling frescoes, 91, 92
and sculpture of David, Julius II, Pope, 68, 70–73
2 and becoming pope, 70,
and Sistine Chapel ceiling 71
frescoes, 92 and Bologna, 80
and Bramante, 76–77, 90,
Haman, and Sistine Chapel 94
ceiling frescoes, 92 and clash between
High Renaissance, 69, 76 Michelangelo and, 79–81
Holofernes, and Sistine death of, 101, 104–105
Chapel ceiling frescoes, and driving French armies
92 from Italy, 70
Hospital of Santo Spirito, and Michelangelo as chief
Michelangelo studying architect for completion
human corpses in, 29 of St. Peter’s Church, 71


Michelangelo designing and Michelangelo designing

and constructing tomb San Lorenzo facade,
for, 73, 75–76, 77–78, 90, 108–109, 110
105–106, 108, 109–111, Michelangelo’s work on
114, 123–124 Julius II’s tomb, 106, 108,
and Michelangelo leaving 110–111
Rome, 79–81 Lives of the Painters, The
Michelangelo’s bronze-cast (Vasari), 24
statue of, 81, 84–86
and Michelangelo’s move to Mary
Rome, 70 and Bruges Madonna, 45,
Michelangelo’s seated statue 67–68
of, 68 and The Deposition, 121–122
and new St. Peter’s Church, and Doni Tondo (Holy
76–77, 90, 94 Family), 68
as Rovere, 70. and The Last Judgment,
See also under Sistine Chapel 119
Julius the Colossus, 81, 84–86 and Pieta, 3, 35–36, 39–45
Mary Magdalene, and Pietas,
kidney stones, Michelangelo 41–42
suffering from, 124 Matthew, St., sculpture of,
Last Judgment, The, 3, 114–115, Medici family
118–121 and collapse of Republic,
Laurentian Library, 111, 112 112–113
Lawrence, St., in The Last and gaining power in
Judgment, 120 Rome, 105
Leah, 124 and Giovanni, 26, 105.
Leo X, Pope, 26 See also Leo X, Pope
death of, 111 and Giuliano, 26, 111
as Giovanni de’ Medici, 26, and Giulio. See Clement
105 VII, Pope
and Michelangelo building and Michelangelo
Medici Mausoleum at decorating Laurentine
San Lorenzo, 26, 111 Library, 111, 112
and Michelangelo and Michelangelo in Rome,
constructing Laurentian 29, 33–34
Library, 111 and Piero, 27–28


and regaining power in and faith, 32, 124

Florence, 105, 113 family of, 9–14, 16, 18, 114
and rocks thrown at David, as famous, 44, 45, 47, 57,63,
60–61. 66–67, 69–70, 115
See also Medici, Lorenzo and final years, 121–125
de’; San Lorenzo Chapel and finances, 35, 40, 53, 57,
Medici, Lorenzo de’ 66–67, 68, 69, 81, 84–85,
and art collection, 23, 26–27, 89, 115
48 and flattened nose, 23–24
death of, 27, 53–54, 111 and goal of art, 6
Michelangelo designing and health problems, 124
and decorating tomb of, and human body, 27, 28–29
2–3 and legacy, 1–4, 125
Michelangelo in house of, letters of, 4
24–27, 105 and only signing Pieta, 44–45
and Michelangelo in Rome, and painting, 68–69, 87, 89.
33 See also frescoes
Michelangelo’s faun and Piccolomini family
sculpture for, 25–26 chapel, 48–49
Michelangelo Buonarroti and poetry, 4, 16, 99–100,
and apprenticeship, 21–24, 124
26 and popes as patrons, 124.
and assistants, 111–112, 120 See also specific popes
and biographers, 24, 44, and religious art, 32
47–48, 55, 63, 77, 95–97, and self-appraisal, 124
98–99, 101, 104–105, and self-portrait, 120
106, 121, 122, 125 in Siena, 48–49
birth of, 9 stonecutter raising, 11
and birthname, 9 and support of Florentine
in Bologna, 28–29, 80–81, Republic, 112–113
84–86 and visits to Carrara marble
childhood of, 9–14, 16, 18 quarries, 40, 73
death of, 124–125 and work habits, 56–57, 122
and earliest works, 25, 27 and works at beginning of
and early interest in sixteenth century, 67–73,
sculpture and drawing, 75–81, 84–87. See also
16, 18, 22–24, 27, 28–29 Julius II, Pope.
education of, 14, 16, 18, 27 See also Florence; Rome


Milan, 10 Poliziano, Angelo, 27

Moses prophets, and Sistine Chapel
sculpture of, 3 ceiling frescoes, 91
seated statue of, 106
and Sistine Chapel ceiling Rachel, 123–124
frescoes, 91, 92–93 Raphael, 4, 89, 115
and Sistine Chapel wall Rebellious Slave, The, 106
fresco, 87 Renaissance, 1, 3–4, 4, 6,
9, 22, 23, 29, 40, 71, 115,
Nicodemus, and The 125
Deposition, 121 High, 69, 76
Noah, and Sistine Chapel Riario, Cardinal Raffaele,
ceiling frescoes, 3, 91 32–35
Northern Renaissance, 41 Rome, 10
and The Deposition, 121–122
Old Testament, as inspiration and Medicis in power, 105
for Sistine Chapel frescoes, Michelangelo in, 29, 33–36,
91–93 39–45, 47, 70–73, 75–81,
84–87, 89–101, 104–115,
Palazzo della Signoria, David 118–125
in, 59–63 and Michelangelo
Paul III, Pope, 114 rebuilding fortifications,
and Farnese family palace, 121
121 and Michelangelo working
and Pauline Chapel frescoes, on Farnese family palace,
121 121
and Sistine Chapel wall Michelangelo’s art in, 3, 4
fresco, 3, 114–115, and Michelangelo’s
118–121 Bacchus, 34–35
Perugino, 87, 115 and Michelangelo’s Bruges
Piccolomini, Cardinal Madonna, 45, 67–68
Francesco, Michelangelo and sacked by Charles V’s
decorating family chapel troops, 112.
of, 48–49 See also Pauline Chapel;
Pieta, 3, 35–36, 39–45 St. Peter’s Church; Sistine
Pius III, Pope, 70 Chapel
Pius IV, Pope, and St. Peter’s Rovere, Giuliano della, 70.
Church, 122–123 See also Julius II, Pope


salvation, and Sistine Chapel and Julius II’s commission

frescoes, 93 to Michelangelo, 87,
Sangallo, Giuliano da, 70, 89–91
76–77, 95 Julius II’s plan for, 90–91
San Lorenzo Chapel, and Michelangelo’s
Michelangelo working on inspiration as book of
and assistants, 111–112 Genesis for, 91–93
and facade, 108–109, 110 Michelangelo’s payment
and losing interest in, 114 for, 89, 95–98
and Medici Mausoleum, and Michelangelo’s
2–3, 26, 111 reluctance to accept
Sansovino, Adrea, 47 commission, 87, 89
Santa Croce Church, and Michelangelo’s
Michelangelo buried in, 125 unhappiness, 98–100
Savonarola, 29, 54 Michelangelo’s work on,
Settignano, Michelangelo’s 93–100
early years in, 11 and mold, 94–95
Sforza, Lodovico, 76 number of figures on, 91, 105
Shakespeare, William, 125 and painted before Michel-
sibyls, and Sistine Chapel angelo’s frescoes, 87
ceiling frescoes, 91 and problems with
Siena, Michelangelo scaffolding, 93–94, 98–99
decorating Piccolomini and problems with surface,
family chapel in, 48–49 93
Signorelli, 87 and time needed for
Sistine Chapel completion, 93, 100, 105
construction of, 70, 87 Sixtus IV, Pope, 70, 87
and Last Judgment fresco, 3, Soderini, Piero, 47, 80
114–115, 118–121 St. Agostino, Michelangelo
Sistine Chapel, and ceiling painting altarpiece in, 45
frescoes, 3, 22 St. Peter’s Church
and Bramante, 94 Julius II’s plans for new,
and challenges to 76–77, 90, 94
Michelangelo, 89–90, 93, Michelangelo as chief
95, 98–100 architect for completion
completion of, 100–101 of, 71, 121, 122–123
and Julius II trying to view Pieta in, 3, 35–36, 39–45
progress of, 95–98 sculpture of Moses in, 3


tondi, Michelangelo Vatican, 32

completing pair of, and Pauline Chapel frescoes,
68 121.
Torrigiano, Pietro, 23–24 See also St. Peter’s Church;
Turkey, and sultan offering Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo work, 67 Venice, 10
Twelve Apostles, as Julius II’s Villiers de Fezenzac, Jean,
plan for Sistine Chapel 33, 40, 44
ceiling, 90–91 Volterra, Daniele da (“Daniele
Vasari, 24, 44, 47–48, 55, 63, the Breeches Maker”),
98–99, 104–105, 121, 122, 125 120

Picture Credits

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Resource, NY 88: © Reuters/CORBIS
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Cover: © Scala/Art Resource, NY

About the Author

Tim McNeese is a prolific author of books for elementary, middle-

and high school, and college readers. He has published more than
70 books and educational materials over the past 20 years, on
everything from Indian legends to the building of the Great Wall of
China to a biography of President George W. Bush. McNeese is an
Associate Professor of History at York College in York, Nebraska,
where he is currently in his fourteenth year of teaching. Previously,
he taught middle- and high school history, English, and journal-
ism for 16 years. He is a graduate of York College (AA), Harding
University (BA), and Southwest Missouri State University (BA, MA).
His writing has earned him a citation in the library reference
work, Something About the Author. His wife, Beverly, is an Assistant
Professor of English at York College. They both love to travel. In 2003
and 2005, they hosted a college study trip for students along fifteen
hundred miles of the Lewis and Clark Trail from eastern Nebraska
to western Montana. They have two children, Noah and Summer.
Readers may e-mail Professor McNeese at